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Huan Zhu Ge Ge: Eternally Yours
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  1. #1
    Senior Member hmschocolate's Avatar
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    Default Huan Zhu Ge Ge: Eternally Yours

    There seems to be a definite lack of HZGG fanfiction on this board . And being a HZGG fan, I feel I must contribute one of mine. Some feedback would be great! Thank you.

    NOTE: This story is not exactly the sequel of HZGG2 but starts off about 2 months before the wedding, after they have returned to the palace.

    Chapter 1: Truth

    Two months before the wedding

    “Are you all right, Xiao Yan Zi?” Xiao Jian asked as he gripped Xiao Yan Zi’s arms to stop her falling over.


    As per Qian Long’s special permission, Xiao Jian was in the palace to visit Xiao Yan Zi and to teach her swordplay and help improve her martial arts. The siblings were using a secluded part of the imperial garden as training ground.


    Xiao Yan Zi felt oddly clumsy that day, her grip on the sword was slack, as if she could barely control her hands at all. Her balance also seemed oddly off. She did not, however, think much of the sudden affliction until, some time ino the training session, an intense wave of dizziness took over her, and the whole world seemed to darken in front of her.


    “I’m all right,” Xiao Yan Zi breathed, not feeling all right at all.


    “You don’t look all right,” Xiao Jian said with concern. “You look really pale. Come on, I’ll take you back to Shu Fang Zhai, and perhaps you should get a Tai Yi to examine you.”


    Xiao Yan Zi felt too weak to protest and let herself be led to Shu Fang Zhai. However, she determinedly declined when both Zi Wei, after hearing of Xiao Yan Zi’s being ill, and Xiao Jian again suggested she see a Tai Yi.


    “I’m fine!” Xiao Yan Zi insisted. “Really, I’ve just been feeling a bit under the weather lately. A bit of rest will clear it up.”


    Xiao Yan Zi didn’t bother to protest, however, when Zi Wei insisted she went and lay down.


    “It’s not like Xiao Yan Zi to suddenly become so weak,” Xiao Jian remarked as he and Zi Wei went out to the main room after making sure that Xiao Yan Zi was in bed.


    “I know,” Zi Wei said worriedly. “She’s been looking pale on and off these past few days…but she hadn’t been collapsing like this.”


    “I think we should call a Tai Yi to examine her anyway,” Xiao Jian said.


    Zi Wei sighed. “I’ll see to it, Xiao Jian, if she doesn’t get better, that she does see a Tai Yi. For now, I’ll take care of her.”


    ***


    For the next few days, Xiao Yan Zi seemed to be back to her her bubbly, vibrant self, losing her paleness, thus settled Zi Wei’s mind that her bouts of faintness before was just a passing thing. Zi Wei did not know, however, was that Xiao Yan Zi faced blinding dizziness every morning when she woke up, though this passed in matters of minutes. She also found that there were periods of times if she stayed in one position for a long time, she would seem to lose all sensation and feeling in her legs. The intensity and freuquency of these symptoms disconcerted Xiao Yan Zi as they increased, however she stubbornly convinced herself that since they would pass in minutes, that nothing was really seriously wrong with her. Thus, she determinedly kept these symptoms as well away from everyone else’ notice as she could.


    It was not until a dinner to celebrate Qing Er’s birthday at Ci Ning Gong, which Qian Long, Ling Fei, Xiao Yan Zi, Yong Qi, Zi Wei and Er Kang all attended that anyone else other than Xiao Yan Zi and Zi Wei found out about Xiao Yan Zi’s fainting spells.


    Xiao Yan Zi was sitting with the others at the dinner table when blinding pain swept over her body, her head suddenly felt twice as heavy and everything around her went black. She only had time to grip Yong Qi’s arm beside her in attempt to steady herself before falling into darkness.


    Yong Qi was speaking to Ling Fei beside him when Zi Wei’s startled cry of “Xiao Yan Zi!” alerted his attention to her. Xiao Yan Zi’s face was scrunched up in pain and she was deathly pale. If Zi Wei was not holding Xiao Yan Zi up by her shoulder, she probably have collapsed onto the table. Xiao Yan Zi’s gripped Yong Qi’s arm to steady herself, but then her head rolled forward and Yong Qi only managed in the nick of time to stop her hitting the table by pulling her head towards his shoulder instead.


    Yong Qi felt panic sweep into him as Xiao Yan Zi lay unmoving in his arm, looking paler than he had ever seen her. He slapped her cheek lightly, calling her name, all the while wondering how she suddenly collapsed like that when she was looking fine the whole evening.


    “What’s wrong with her?” Qian Long asked worriedly as Zi Wei pressed at the nerve just above her upper lip to try and revive her. Xiao Yan Zi didn’t budge.


    “Huang Ah Ma, I think we should get a Tai Yi to look at her,” Zi Wei said hurried.


    “Yes, of course,” Lao Fou Ye said. “But the question is why she suddenly just dropped like that. She was looking fine all evening.”


    “It’s a long story,” Zi Wei said shortly, looking pleadingly at both Qian Long and Lao Fou Ye.


    Qing Er spoke up, “Yong Qi, take her into my room.” Then, she turned to order a eunuch to call for Hu Tai Yi.


    “I’ve noticed her looking a bit pale and faint lately, and did suggest she see Hu Tai Yi but she just brushed it off, saying that it passes,” Zi Wei said to the room at large as Yong Qi placed Xiao Yan Zi down on Qing Er’s bed. “I think the closest she’s come to fainting like this was a few days ago, when she was having a martial arts lesson with Xiao Jian. Xiao Jian took her home, looking very pale and he said she’d nearly fainted in the garden. He also said she was oddly unfocussed and unproductive that day. I really shouldn’t have listened to her insisting not to call for Hu Tai Yi then but I thought…since she went to bed then and when she woke up she was fine again…that it wasn’t that serious…”


    “How is it that I never noticed any of this?” Yong Qi asked in confusion, seeing as he and Er Kang practically lived at Shu Fang Zhai. He knew if Xiao Yan Zi ever showed uncharacteristics signs as fainting, he’d be sure to notice.


    “That day she nearly fainted you and Er Kang were working with Huang Ah Ma. You didn’t see her until the next day, when she was looking decidedly better. And her paleness and dizziness that I’ve noticed happened mostly in the morning and passes quite quickly,” Zi Wei explained.


    By then, Hu Tai Yi had arrived, and Zi Wei was obliged to describe what she had observed of Xiao Yan Zi’s symptoms to him. After examining Xiao Yan Zi further, Hu Tai Yi addressed Qian Long, “Hui Huang Shang, I have an idea what Ge Ge’s illness might be, however I dare not make the diagnosis before I can question Ge Ge herself about her health lately. I advise now that we let Ge Ge sleep, and I will come back in the morning to speak to Ge Ge.”


    So that night, Zi Wei and Xiao Yan Zi stayed at Ci Ning Gong in Qing Er’s room, while Yong Qi very reluctantly left for Jing Yang Gong, his heart in turmoil about what could be wrong with Xiao Yan Zi. As he left, he met Zi Wei’s eyes and they shared for a moment a foreboding feeling of fearing the worst.


    Zi Wei found herself unable to sleep that night. Something told her that Xiao Yan Zi was seriously ill, that this would not end for the better. Fear filled her whole body, though she hardly knew what she was afraid of. All she knew was for Xiao Yan Zi, who always healthy, to be collapsing like this, it could not be normal or good.


    The next morning, Xiao Yan Zi awoke, looking still decidedly pale but insisted on going home to Shu Fang Zhai before seeing Hu Tai Yi again. Qing Er and Zi Wei took either side of her arms and accompanied her back to Shu Fang Zhai, noting with no little alarm to themselves, that Xiao Yan Zi’s balance was very much off. Just outside the gate of Ci Ning Gong, they met a very agitated Yong Qi who did not look as if he had any sleep at all and had come, as early as could be considered decent, to see how Xiao Yan Zi was.


    Yong Qi’s heart filled with fear and pain as he took in her pale countenance and her weariness. She assured him that she was feeling much better than she was the night before, but that did nothing to reassure him, considering how she passed out cold the night before.


    After they reached Shu Fang Zhai, meeting Er Kang on the way, Hu Tai Yi was duly summoned. Qian Long and Ling Fei arrived just in time as Hu Tai Yi did, after stopping at Ci Ning Gong and finding out that Xiao Yan Zi had gone back to Shu Fang Zhai. After a long interview with Xiao Yan Zi, where Xiao Yan Zi reluctantly described to Hu Tai Yi and everyone else in the room her symptoms lately, Hu Tai Yi seemed to take a long time to ponder to himself before making the final diagnosis.


    Then, finally he looked up at everyone with a perfectly neutral face, though the news he was to impart was anything but.


    “Hui Huang Shang, I believe that Huan Zhu Ge Ge is suffering from a rare illness, multiple scleroris,” Hu Tai Yi said quietly. “Not much is known about multiple sclerosis, since the number of patients is extremely small, however it is believed that this disease somehow affect the brain’s nervous system, causing damage to a variety of nerves in the body. Multiple sclerosis can cause a variety of symptoms, including those Ge Ge just described to us, dizziness, fainting, losing feeling and sensation in parts of the body, extreme pain, trouble with balance and concentration. Other symptoms may include vision impairment and various emotional conditions such as clinical depression and difficulty in controlling one’s emotions. Multiple sclerosis may take several different forms, with new symptoms occurring either in discrete attacks or slowly accruing over time.”


    Hu Tai Yi paused for a moment as this part of the diagnosis slowly sank into everyone in the room. Yong Qi could only stare at him and sensed the worst was yet to come.


    “Multiple sclerosis is a chronic illness and cannot, unfortunately, be cured. I can administer treatments that will ease Ge Ge’s suffering with this illness, we cannot cure it definitely. The symptoms Ge Ge is experiencing now will fade with time, but will inevitably come back with time. Attacks from multiple sclerosis are extremely unpredictable. Sometimes the illness lay dormant for months, on the other hand, some patients never experience a remission at all. It is much a matter of chance. However, multiple sclerosis, since it disrupts the body’s ability to function, invariably, significantly…shortens the patient’s life time. I think…realistically, we are looking at Ge Ge being able to be with us for another…three to five years. I dare not hope for more.” Hu Tai Yi finished his diagnosis with a decidedly morbid tone, his own heart feeling extremely heavy. It was moments like this that made Hu Tai Yi realise that being a physician to the imperial family did not do much to lengthen one’s life time either, what with having to hand out these sort of news, deal with the constant death threats and the stress of having the lives of some of the most important people in the country in his hand.


    * * *

    A/N: All information on multiple sclerosis comes from Wikipedia. Before you say anything, I know that in the real world people with MS usually live a lot longer than that... and I know it's a bit of a stretch that they'd know what multiple sclerosis is in those days but I'm writing a story!

  2. #2
    Senior Member hmschocolate's Avatar
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    Chapter 2: Pain

    As Hu Tai Yi’s words played themselves over and over in her mind, Xiao Yan Zi felt everything around her seem to dissolve. She could no longer hear any noise, and found herself staring ahead, not seing what was in front of her.

    What could she feel? What could she think? The idea that she was to die, only a few short years from now, did not sink in. No, this was not what she imagined, this was not what she dreamt. Growing up like she had, Xiao Yan Zi’s dreams for life had never been extravagant, not even when she became a Ge Ge. But the dreams did not involve this, it did not involve facing death before she really knew what life was like. Not a death like this, at least. No, she would gladly die for her friends, for Huang Ah Ma, for Yong Qi, for love, for friendship, for anything she believed in. How could face death because of an illness? How could she face death because of something that weakened her to the point of depending on others? She would rather die from execution with her head held high than wilted in a bed with everyone she loved in tears around her.


    The image played itself in her mind, though Xiao Yan Zi hardly knew what she was seeing. Her whole body felt cold as she made herself face the possibility of death. Tears locked cold inside her. No, this was definitely not what she wanted.


    Why was Heaven doing this to her? Xiao Yan Zi asked herself. Why, indeed? Was what she wanted for her life so very hard to achieve, to give that Heaven mus thrust this on her? No, Xiao Yan Zi didn’t think so. She had never wanted so much. She only wanted a life where she could be happy and with little discomfort. Somehow, that clashed totally with her wanting to marry Yong Qi. Life in the palace, for Xiao Yan Zi, was anything but with little discomfort. Yet somehow, Xiao Yan Zi had imagined she would manage both…Or at least, she could bear the discomfort and live happily.


    Make that live happily for a long time.


    Now all that had come crashing down at her feet. Three to five years, Hu Tai Yi had said, Xiao Yan Zi was to expect to have left of her life. These number did not have much meaning to Xiao Yan Zi right now, because all she knew then was that she was dying. Whether it was to be tomorrow or in a few years…it didn’t make a difference to Xiao Yan Zi then.


    Xiao Yan Zi thought about Yong Qi, about Zi Wei, about Er Kang, Er Tai, Sai Ya, Liu Qing, Liu Hong, Jin Suo, Qing Er, Xiao Jian. Han Xiang, Meng Dan, Qian Long, Ling Fei, Ming Yue, Cai Xia, Xiao Deng Zi, Xiao Zhou Zi, even Xiao Pian Zi, the parrot. How could their lives not include her? How would they go on living without her? How could she imagine leaving them? How could she face the idea of them gathering at Hui Bin Lou and she not being there with them?


    Who would overfeed Xiao Pian Zi to persuade it to say Ge Ge ji xiang? Who would chatise Ming Yue, Cai Xia, Xiao Deng Zi, Xiao Zhou Zi when they forget that they must not kneel in Shu Fang Zhai? Who would get angry for Ling Fei the next time Qian Long lost his head over another woman? Who would make Qian Long laugh? How could the others meet up with Han Xiang and Meng Dan again like they promised without her? How could Meng Dan teach martial arts to a student who was not there? Who would Xiao Jian pass on the Fang Swordplay to? Who would try to drag Qing Er away from Ci Ning Gong to ‘corrupt’ her? Who would pester Liu Hong about finding a match for her? Who would annoy Jin Suo by running around in Hui Bin Lou? Who would tease Liu Qing mercilessly about Jin Suo being pregnant? Who would Sai Ya fight with when she returned to Beijing? Who would join in with Er Tai to tease the righteously proper and stiff Er Kang? Who would rage at Er Kang the next time he argued with Zi Wei? Who would Zi Wei giggle with, gossip with, laugh with, cry with, share pain and happiness with?


    Most importantly, who would love Yong Qi as she did? Who would bully him, pick fights with him only to feel the sweet satisfaction of reconciliation? Who would exasperate and annoy Yong Qi with her rashness, wrecklessness and childish temper? Who would Yong Qi have to raise eyebrows at? Who would Yong Qi sneak to Shu Fang Zhai late at night to see? From whom would Yong Qi steal kisses behind closed doors? Who would love him, cherish him, for all his pride and stubbornness, and not for his title and his money? Who would…


    The questions overwhelmed Xiao Yan Zi. No...life was not supposed to be like this! No…this was not her dream, her hopes! And she was not sure she could face it, let alone accept it.


    ***


    Qian Long hardly remembered ever feeling so empty in his life. He had faced deaths of his children before. The number of children he had lost over the years were enough to count on both hands. Yet the idea was never so hard to grip as it was this time, and the pain was never so acute, so blinding as it was this time.


    He had often wondered what it was about Xiao Yan Zi that drew her so much to him. How it was that she could be the one woman he could feel so much platonic love for who was not even related to him. Qian Long loved his daughters all as they come, however, for them was the obliged love that came naturally with fatherhood. With Xiao Yan Zi, though Qian Long knew she was not his daughter, nor anything about her origin, her family background, though her recklessness and improper ways put him in conflict with his own mother, and into difficult positions, Qian Long never felt anything less than the greatest affection for her. Qian Long knew he loved her for all her difference from his other daughters, for all her recklessness, her impropriety, her stubbornness, her wildness, her complete inability and unwillingness to learn and adapt the ways of court life that would make her blend with everyone else.


    She never failed to bring smiles and laughter to him. She brought him down from being the stern and cold emperor to be an affectionate father. She was the fresh air that he craved in the stifling palace, she was his light. He always compared both Xiao Yan Zi and Zi Wei to being his arms…and now, it was with intense pain that Qian Long realised he had just been told one of his arms would soon have to be cut off.


    How was he to face the fact that Xiao Yan Zi was to die? Qian Long looked around. Zi Wei was trembling in her seat, tears shining her eyes. There was disbelief conflicting with pain of Zi Wei’s face, that pained Qian Long, as he realised that Zi Wei, too, like him, was desperately trying to deny the news they just have been forced fed. Ling Fei’s shoulders shook with silent sobs and and Qian Long could see the tears wetting her face. Yong Qi was standing with his back to Qian Long, staring at Xiao Yan Zi on the bed. His fist was clenched so tightly behind his back that the knuckles were white. Qian Long knew as painful as it was for all of them to face this news, the impact of it on Yong Qi must be a thousand times worst. The rigidity of Yong Qi’s posture told it all, that he was struggling to hold all his emotions inside him, to control himself from being taken over by the pain by not letting himself move at all.


    Qian Long looked at Xiao Yan Zi. She sat on the bed, staring off into the distant, but Qian Long was sure she could not see anything in front of her. Her face was oddly blank, as if she had lost herself into some intense depths. Qian Long had a feeling a full riot could break out now and Xiao Yan Zi would not notice. What must Xiao Yan Zi be feeling now? Qian Long could not imagine.


    The sight in front of him only made Qian Long feel as hopeless and as useless as he had ever been in his life. He was the emperor of a vast empire, he had the power over the lives of millions of people…and now he was incapable of saving his own daughter’s life. No, not even Jin Pai Ling Jian could save Xiao Yan Zi now…not when her life was now in Heaven’s hands. Of course, he was hailed as the Son of Heaven. What influence did he ever have over Heaven, really? Qian Long thought back to the day when Zi Wei and Xiao Yan Zi were sent to the execution ground and all his other children had knelt down to plead for the two Ge Ge. Qian Long laughed bitterly to himself. Could he do the same? Could he kneel down to plead to his ‘father’ for Xiao Yan Zi’s life? He could. But could it possibly move the eternal Heaven as Qian Long’s children unity in pleading for Xiao Yan Zi had moved him?


    It could not.


    ****


    Zi Wei didn’t know how she managed to find the chair and sit down. Or maybe Er Kang had taken her there. She did not know. All that filled her mind now was the horrible prospect of losing Xiao Yan Zi…of Xiao Yan Zi dying, not on Qian Long’s order, not by beheading as she always feared, but by something that was so completely out of their control. A sweeping cold loneliness overwhelmed Zi Wei as she slowly took in the idea that a very short time from now, Xiao Yan Zi would be dead.


    How could that be? No, sparkling, bubbly and animated Xiao Yan Zi was always so alive…


    Yet as Zi Wei looked at her now on the bed, her face pale this time from the shock and horror of the news Hu Tai Yi just imparted, Zi Wei realised how far away that spirited girl was. Zi Wei had never seen Xiao Yan Zi looking so…pliable, so drained of everything that made her Xiao Yan Zi, so drained of spirit.


    Perhaps it was this that made the news hit forcefully to Zi Wei. But how was she to accept it? How was she to accept the prospect of losing her best friend, her sister, her wild, vibrant, reckless other half? Energetic Xiao Yan Zi, cheerful Xiao Yan Zi, beautiful Xiao Yan Zi was the one thing that made this whole cold palace live, the only one to ever dare stir up life in the existence of the indifferent court life. How could she – Zi Wei – cope with life without Xiao Yan Zi? No, somehow, to Zi Wei, the palace and court life had tied themselves totally in with Xiao Yan Zi’s lively presence. Zi Wei did not know court life without Xiao Yan Zi…she only knew that the prospect of that was bleaker than the coldest winter’s night.


    Zi Wei hardly knew how everyone else was dealing with this news. She could only bite her lip tightly to stop the sobs desperately wanting to break out from her. But how could she let Xiao Yan Zi see her weakness now? No, she knew she could not cry, despite feeling her pain, her emotions, her fears taking over her body, against her will. Zi Wei hardly knew what happened, but somehow she came to be in her own room, sobbing on Er Kang’s shoulders, trying to push away the horrible reality of the matter.


    ***


    Heaven had a way of playing jokes on them, Xiao Jian thought in agony when he heard the diagnosis. After some of the truth had digested a bit in the palace, Er Kang went out to Hui Bin Lou to break the news to those there, and with permission from Qian Long for Liu Qing, Liu Hong, and Jin Suo to come into the palace to see Xiao Yan Zi immediately if they wished.


    As Xiao Jian sat in the carriage that carried the five of them back to the palace, he had no idea what he was going to feel or was supposed to say when he saw his sister. What was he supposed to do? The news Er Kang just brought had hardly registered to him. Xiao Yan Zi could not die! Not after all the trouble, the pain he went through to find her. Not after he had swallowed his every pain, his every bitterness to forget the grudge against Qian Long in hope of securing her happiness with Yong Qi. Not after he had forced himself to betray his own oath of avenging his parents for her. Not after all the dilemma and the guilt he suffered battling his wish to honour his parents and to secure her happiness. Not after he had chose her happiness over being filial to his parents’ memory.


    He did it all so that she could be happy, so that she could marry the man she loved without feeling the agony, the guilt he suffered himself. So why couldn’t Heaven just let her have that happiness? Why does Heaven insist on bringing pain to her, to him, to them?


    The idea that his sister was dying and he was powerless to stop it made Xiao Jian feel even more unfilial to his parents than when he abandoned the idea of revenge for her. No, in abandoning revenge for Xiao Yan Zi’s happiness, he was at least still doing some of what his parents would have wanted – to protect Xiao Yan Zi from the hurtful truth, to make sure that her life was happy and fulfilling. He had known that his parents could not blame him for chosing as he did.


    But this…this was more than Xiao Jian could bear. How could he be willing to give up everything for her, only to watch her die? How could ever face his parents’ memory?


    ***

  3. #3
    Senior Member hmschocolate's Avatar
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    Chapter 3: Love

    The next day

    “Surely, Huang Di, in light of Xiao Yan Zi’s illness, we will have to reconsider plans for the wedding,” Lao Fou Ye said to Qian Long. Qing Er, who was standing next to Lao Fou Ye, looked up sharply and looked worriedly at Qian Long.


    “Reconsider? With all due respect, Lao Fou Ye, I do not see any need to reconsider. The wedding is not due to take place to for another two months, by which time I am sure Xiao Yan Zi will be in better condition,” Qian Long said.


    “Huang Di, do you not see my point? Do you still want to go on with this wedding when it is known that Xiao Yan Zi will die within a few years? Then what is the point of this marriage if she possibly couldn’t survive to – “


    “Lao Fou Ye, allow me to interrupt. I think in light of Xiao Yan Zi’s illness, Yong Qi will be more determined than ever to go through with the wedding. I know Yong Qi, Lao Fou Ye, he wants to marry Xiao Yan Zi and nothing can change his mind, not this news. If anything, he’d be more resolute because of this news. Besides, don’t you think it might do Xiao Yan Zi some good? I am aware that Lao Fou Ye never got a good impression of Xiao Yan Zi, but her heart is in the right place. We still are trying to get used to the fact that Xiao Yan Zi is dying, so I am sure Xiao Yan Zi would feel like being in a dark tunnel right now. She would need something to make her happy, Lao Fou Ye, and you cannot deny that Yong Qi does just that.”


    “But Huang Di…”


    Before Lao Fou Ye could finish what she was saying, Yong Qi’s arrival was announced. Yong Qi entered the room and immediately sensed some tension already there, especially after the grimace Qing Er gave him behind Lao Fou Ye's back.


    “Lao Fou Ye ji xiang! Huang Ah Ma ji xiang!”


    “Yong Qi, we are just discussing your marriage,” Lao Fou Ye looked pointedly at him.


    “Discuss? Lao Fou Ye, I do not understand, what is there left to discuss?”


    “I am thinking whether it is wise to let this wedding go on,” Lao Fou Ye said simply.


    Yong Qi inhaled a quick breath and looked quickly at Qian Long, who closed his eyes and sighed, then at Qing Er, who frowned.


    “Lao Fou Ye, Yong Qi does not understand. I was under the impression that Lao Fou Ye is willing to let my marriage to Xiao Yan Zi take place, why now…”


    “Yong Qi, you cannot not understand. With the recent news about Xiao Yan Zi’s illness, surely you cannot think I will still let this marriage go on?”


    “Lao Fou Ye, you cannot think that now that we have received news of Xiao Yan Zi’s illness, I’ll feel any different about her. Lao Fou Ye, I know you are not particularly fond of Xiao Yan Zi, but she is the woman I love, and I will marry her.”


    “What is the point of your marrying her if she will die in a few years? You are but wasting your time, Yong Qi!” Lao Fou Ye exclaimed heatedly.


    “Lao Fou Ye, I will not be wasting my time," Yong Qi said earnestly. "Lao Fou Ye, right now the news of Xiao Yan Zi’s illness has not yet quite sunk into me, but I have accepted at least that within a very short amount of time I will lose the woman I love more than anything in this world. Frankly right now the prospect of not having Xiao Yan Zi in my life has not registered to me yet, but I am terrified of what will happens when that day does come. But I know whatever I am feeling right now, Xiao Yan Zi must be feeling it a hundred times worst." He paused for a moment and took a deep breath before going on, emotions were thick in his voice. "Lao Fou Ye, Xiao Yan Zi has limited time left in the world and I intend to make whatever time she has left the happiest days of her life. Xiao Yan Zi is the only breath of fresh air I have in this palace, only when I have her in my life that I have ever truly thought my life was just more than an existence. She is my life force because I have never truly lived until I met her. And I know to lose Xiao Yan Zi would be like losing all my will to live, and I am truly terrified of how I could possibly cope with that day when it does come. Xiao Yan Zi has suffered too much in the palace for me, and I want to just bring her all the happiness I could so that when I do have to let her go, I won’t have anything to regret. Lao Fou Ye, I love Xiao Yan Zi, and I want to make her happy. I know Lao Fou Ye wants what is best for me, but just this once, I beg Lao Fou Ye to trust me to know what is best for me and let me marry Xiao Yan Zi.”


    Tears threatened to fall from his eyes, but Yong Qi bit his lips and closed his eyes for a brief moment, when there was a deadly silence in the room as Lao Fou Ye stared at him. Yong Qi could hear a small sniffle in the back and he knew Qing Er, too, was holding back tears. Yong Qi couldn’t bring himself to look at anyone now, especially not his father, because he knew if he saw the sadness in Qian Long’s eyes, his tears would fall and he could not himself break down like that. If he did, then the whole situation would suddenly become more real, and he didn’t know if he could cope with that.


    For a long moment, no one spoke. Then Qian Long cleared his throat.


    “Lao Fou Ye, surely you cannot help but be touched by the love between them. I trust Yong Qi to make the right decision, surely Lao Fou Ye could do that as well?” Qian Long said, in a tone that left no doubt that he would make sure this wedding went on as planned, no matter what Lao Fou Ye said. Then, to Yong Qi, he said, “You may go. I will discuss this further with Lao Fou Ye. Go home and rest, Yong Qi. I know you’ve been through a lot lately.”


    Yong Qi nodded. He looked up and caught Qing Er’s eyes, and she gave him an encouraging smile. Bowing to Lao Fou Ye and Qian Long, he said “Yong Qi takes his leave,” and backed out of the room.


    “Lao Fou Ye, Qing Er begs Lao Fou Ye to give Yong Qi and Xiao Yan Zi your blessing. After everything they’ve been through, I’m sure it would mean a lot to both of them, but to Xiao Yan Zi in particular, to be accepted by Lao Fou Ye. Besides I don’t think Lao Fou Ye will ever be able to find Yong Qi a wife who loves him more than Xiao Yan Zi.” Qing Er said quietly.


    Lao Fou Ye sighed heavily. “Do you think he really meant everything he said?” she asked no one in particular. There was a long silence, then Qing Er said, “Yes.”


    Lao Fou Ye stared out into the courtyard in front of her and for the first time, realised just how deep Yong Qi’s love for Xiao Yan Zi went.


    ~*~


    Yong Qi entered Shu Fang Zhai and entered Xiao Yan Zi’s room, where Xiao Yan Zi, looking decidedly pale, was sitting up on the bed. Xiao Yan Zi smiled weakly at him as he entered the room. Yong Qi sat down on the edge of Xiao Yan Zi’s bed and pressed a kiss to her forehead. Xiao Yan Zi slipped her hand into his and closed her eyes, savouring the touch of his lips on her skin.


    “Where’s everyone?” Yong Qi asked.


    “I told them to go rest. Took a lot of talking but I finally convinced them I was fine right now and if anything hurts I’ll call. So what did Lao Fou Ye want to see you about?”


    Yong Qi looked at Xiao Yan Zi for a long time. He felt as if his heart was breaking just looking at her, looking as pale and weak as he had ever seen her. Yong Qi felt like Xiao Yan Zi was slowly fading away from him; each day passed, she seemed to be a little paler and Yong Qi was terrified that one day, she would just be gone from his life, leaving him empty. Yong Qi raised a hand and stroked her cheek, looked deeply into her eyes, eyes that mesmerised him from the moment he met her. The bloom that was usually on her cheeks had gone, the sparkle from her eyes had dimmed. It seemed that every breath she took was hard work. And it broke Yong Qi’s heart to not be able to take the pain upon himself to relieve her. He tried to swallow the painful lump in his throat.


    “I love you,” he said, his voice cracking, tears filled his eyes. He wrapped his arms around her, enveloping her into himself and rested his chin on her head, and closed his eyes, letting the tears fall.


    “Yong Qi,” Xiao Yan Zi murmured, burying her face into his chest, her arms slipping around his waist.


    They held each other like that for a long time, before Xiao Yan Zi pulled away and raised her hands to brush away the tears still on Yong Qi’s cheeks.


    “Don’t. Don’t. You’re going to make me cry,” she said quietly, then pressing her lips together and looked at him. She mouthed the words “I love you” at him, not trusting herself to speak.


    Yong Qi took her hands and pressed them to his heart, leaned down and placed a gentle kiss on her lips. His lips gently moved over hers in a sweet, loving kiss. They slowly broke apart and Xiao Yan Zi brought his hands to her lips and kissed them, then pressed them to her cheeks.


    “So, what did Lao Fou Ye want to talk to you about?” Xiao Yan Zi asked again. “And don’t say nothing.”


    “About…our wedding…” Yong Qi said slowly.


    “Yong Qi, you don’t have to…you don’t have to marry me…I don’t want you to feel like you’re obligated…” Xiao Yan Zi said quietly.


    “Xiao Yan Zi! What are you talking about?”


    “I know Lao Fou Ye doesn’t want you to marry me…and besides, after what Hu Tai Yi said… I don’t want you to have to go through the pain, Yong Qi. Let’s just stop here, because if we do go on, it’s only going to hurt you and I don’t want you to have to …”


    “Xiao Yan Zi, whether I marry you or not will not change my feelings for you. You think just because I don’t marry you, I’ll suffer less when I have to lose you?”


    “It won’t do you any good to marry me…you’re just wasting your time…and eventually Lao Fou Ye will get you to marry someone else…you might as well…”


    The irony of the fact that Xiao Yan Zi had just repeated word for word what Lao Fou Ye had said to him a few minutes earlier struck Yong Qi hard. He closed his eyes for a moment, trying to calm himself. Then, resolutely, he opened his eyes and looked straight at Xiao Yan Zi.


    “Oh, so if I do marry someone else, it will make you feel better? Look at me, Xiao Yan Zi. If you could look me in the eyes and tell me that you could let me walk away from you right now and your heart won’t be breaking, then I will. If it truly will make you feel better then I will.”


    She stared back at him with tears in her eyes, her lips trembling.


    “My heart will be breaking, but…I love you, Yong Qi, I love you so much, and I only want you to be happy. I don’t want you to have to suffer, to go through all the pain you will have being married to me and…”


    Yong Qi didn’t let Xiao Yan Zi finish, he wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close to him. “You are so stupid, you know that? You are my happiness, Xiao Yan Zi. It will hurt like hell when I have to lose you, but I want to be with you. Xiao Yan Zi, I’m still trying to get used to the fact that one day close from now, I will lose you. I don’t know how I’ll be when that day does come but I know that I love you, and I want to bring you happiness. I want to give you all the love I could possibly…I want to make sure whatever time you have left the best years of your life…the happiest…I’ll suffer being away from you, Xiao Yan Zi, and knowing, later on, that what I could have had with you…Let me love you, Xiao Yan Zi, bring you happiness…I don’t want to look back ten years from now and regret that I could have done something…” Yong Qi broke off, and held Xiao Yan Zi closer to him.


    Xiao Yan Zi tightened her arms around him and for the first time since she heard Hu Tai Yi’s news of her illness, let herself cry. Xiao Yan Zi let each shattering sob break out of her and held on to Yong Qi desperately, as if she let go, her life will slip away from her.


    “I don’t want it to be like this. It’s not supposed to be like this. It’s not. I want…I want a life with you…to be your wife…to be able to have children and see them grow up and grow old with you…not like this…not like this…I want to still be alive fifty years from now and be telling our grandchildren about us…and now…even five years is probably too much to ask for…”


    All Yong Qi could do was to hold her in his arms. Tears silently rolled down his cheeks as Xiao Yan Zi let all her despair and fear that had been chained up in so many days pour out.


    “Whatever happens, I’m here. I’m here, love,” Yong Qi whispered in her hair, holding her tighter to himself.


    ***

  4. #4
    Senior Member hmschocolate's Avatar
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    Chapter 3: Love

    The next day

    “Surely, Huang Di, in light of Xiao Yan Zi’s illness, we will have to reconsider plans for the wedding,” Lao Fou Ye said to Qian Long. Qing Er, who was standing next to Lao Fou Ye, looked up sharply and looked worriedly at Qian Long.


    “Reconsider? With all due respect, Lao Fou Ye, I do not see any need to reconsider. The wedding is not due to take place to for another two months, by which time I am sure Xiao Yan Zi will be in better condition,” Qian Long said.


    “Huang Di, do you not see my point? Do you still want to go on with this wedding when it is known that Xiao Yan Zi will die within a few years? Then what is the point of this marriage if she possibly couldn’t survive to – “


    “Lao Fou Ye, allow me to interrupt. I think in light of Xiao Yan Zi’s illness, Yong Qi will be more determined than ever to go through with the wedding. I know Yong Qi, Lao Fou Ye, he wants to marry Xiao Yan Zi and nothing can change his mind, not this news. If anything, he’d be more resolute because of this news. Besides, don’t you think it might do Xiao Yan Zi some good? I am aware that Lao Fou Ye never got a good impression of Xiao Yan Zi, but her heart is in the right place. We still are trying to get used to the fact that Xiao Yan Zi is dying, so I am sure Xiao Yan Zi would feel like being in a dark tunnel right now. She would need something to make her happy, Lao Fou Ye, and you cannot deny that Yong Qi does just that.”


    “But Huang Di…”


    Before Lao Fou Ye could finish what she was saying, Yong Qi’s arrival was announced. Yong Qi entered the room and immediately sensed some tension already there, especially after the grimace Qing Er gave him behind Lao Fou Ye's back.


    “Lao Fou Ye ji xiang! Huang Ah Ma ji xiang!”


    “Yong Qi, we are just discussing your marriage,” Lao Fou Ye looked pointedly at him.


    “Discuss? Lao Fou Ye, I do not understand, what is there left to discuss?”


    “I am thinking whether it is wise to let this wedding go on,” Lao Fou Ye said simply.


    Yong Qi inhaled a quick breath and looked quickly at Qian Long, who closed his eyes and sighed, then at Qing Er, who frowned.


    “Lao Fou Ye, Yong Qi does not understand. I was under the impression that Lao Fou Ye is willing to let my marriage to Xiao Yan Zi take place, why now…”


    “Yong Qi, you cannot not understand. With the recent news about Xiao Yan Zi’s illness, surely you cannot think I will still let this marriage go on?”


    “Lao Fou Ye, you cannot think that now that we have received news of Xiao Yan Zi’s illness, I’ll feel any different about her. Lao Fou Ye, I know you are not particularly fond of Xiao Yan Zi, but she is the woman I love, and I will marry her.”


    “What is the point of your marrying her if she will die in a few years? You are but wasting your time, Yong Qi!” Lao Fou Ye exclaimed heatedly.


    “Lao Fou Ye, I will not be wasting my time," Yong Qi said earnestly. "Lao Fou Ye, right now the news of Xiao Yan Zi’s illness has not yet quite sunk into me, but I have accepted at least that within a very short amount of time I will lose the woman I love more than anything in this world. Frankly right now the prospect of not having Xiao Yan Zi in my life has not registered to me yet, but I am terrified of what will happens when that day does come. But I know whatever I am feeling right now, Xiao Yan Zi must be feeling it a hundred times worst." He paused for a moment and took a deep breath before going on, emotions were thick in his voice. "Lao Fou Ye, Xiao Yan Zi has limited time left in the world and I intend to make whatever time she has left the happiest days of her life. Xiao Yan Zi is the only breath of fresh air I have in this palace, only when I have her in my life that I have ever truly thought my life was just more than an existence. She is my life force because I have never truly lived until I met her. And I know to lose Xiao Yan Zi would be like losing all my will to live, and I am truly terrified of how I could possibly cope with that day when it does come. Xiao Yan Zi has suffered too much in the palace for me, and I want to just bring her all the happiness I could so that when I do have to let her go, I won’t have anything to regret. Lao Fou Ye, I love Xiao Yan Zi, and I want to make her happy. I know Lao Fou Ye wants what is best for me, but just this once, I beg Lao Fou Ye to trust me to know what is best for me and let me marry Xiao Yan Zi.”


    Tears threatened to fall from his eyes, but Yong Qi bit his lips and closed his eyes for a brief moment, when there was a deadly silence in the room as Lao Fou Ye stared at him. Yong Qi could hear a small sniffle in the back and he knew Qing Er, too, was holding back tears. Yong Qi couldn’t bring himself to look at anyone now, especially not his father, because he knew if he saw the sadness in Qian Long’s eyes, his tears would fall and he could not himself break down like that. If he did, then the whole situation would suddenly become more real, and he didn’t know if he could cope with that.


    For a long moment, no one spoke. Then Qian Long cleared his throat.


    “Lao Fou Ye, surely you cannot help but be touched by the love between them. I trust Yong Qi to make the right decision, surely Lao Fou Ye could do that as well?” Qian Long said, in a tone that left no doubt that he would make sure this wedding went on as planned, no matter what Lao Fou Ye said. Then, to Yong Qi, he said, “You may go. I will discuss this further with Lao Fou Ye. Go home and rest, Yong Qi. I know you’ve been through a lot lately.”


    Yong Qi nodded. He looked up and caught Qing Er’s eyes, and she gave him an encouraging smile. Bowing to Lao Fou Ye and Qian Long, he said “Yong Qi takes his leave,” and backed out of the room.


    “Lao Fou Ye, Qing Er begs Lao Fou Ye to give Yong Qi and Xiao Yan Zi your blessing. After everything they’ve been through, I’m sure it would mean a lot to both of them, but to Xiao Yan Zi in particular, to be accepted by Lao Fou Ye. Besides I don’t think Lao Fou Ye will ever be able to find Yong Qi a wife who loves him more than Xiao Yan Zi.” Qing Er said quietly.


    Lao Fou Ye sighed heavily. “Do you think he really meant everything he said?” she asked no one in particular. There was a long silence, then Qing Er said, “Yes.”


    Lao Fou Ye stared out into the courtyard in front of her and for the first time, realised just how deep Yong Qi’s love for Xiao Yan Zi went.


    ~*~


    Yong Qi entered Shu Fang Zhai and entered Xiao Yan Zi’s room, where Xiao Yan Zi, looking decidedly pale, was sitting up on the bed. Xiao Yan Zi smiled weakly at him as he entered the room. Yong Qi sat down on the edge of Xiao Yan Zi’s bed and pressed a kiss to her forehead. Xiao Yan Zi slipped her hand into his and closed her eyes, savouring the touch of his lips on her skin.


    “Where’s everyone?” Yong Qi asked.


    “I told them to go rest. Took a lot of talking but I finally convinced them I was fine right now and if anything hurts I’ll call. So what did Lao Fou Ye want to see you about?”


    Yong Qi looked at Xiao Yan Zi for a long time. He felt as if his heart was breaking just looking at her, looking as pale and weak as he had ever seen her. Yong Qi felt like Xiao Yan Zi was slowly fading away from him; each day passed, she seemed to be a little paler and Yong Qi was terrified that one day, she would just be gone from his life, leaving him empty. Yong Qi raised a hand and stroked her cheek, looked deeply into her eyes, eyes that mesmerised him from the moment he met her. The bloom that was usually on her cheeks had gone, the sparkle from her eyes had dimmed. It seemed that every breath she took was hard work. And it broke Yong Qi’s heart to not be able to take the pain upon himself to relieve her. He tried to swallow the painful lump in his throat.


    “I love you,” he said, his voice cracking, tears filled his eyes. He wrapped his arms around her, enveloping her into himself and rested his chin on her head, and closed his eyes, letting the tears fall.


    “Yong Qi,” Xiao Yan Zi murmured, burying her face into his chest, her arms slipping around his waist.


    They held each other like that for a long time, before Xiao Yan Zi pulled away and raised her hands to brush away the tears still on Yong Qi’s cheeks.


    “Don’t. Don’t. You’re going to make me cry,” she said quietly, then pressing her lips together and looked at him. She mouthed the words “I love you” at him, not trusting herself to speak.


    Yong Qi took her hands and pressed them to his heart, leaned down and placed a gentle kiss on her lips. His lips gently moved over hers in a sweet, loving kiss. They slowly broke apart and Xiao Yan Zi brought his hands to her lips and kissed them, then pressed them to her cheeks.


    “So, what did Lao Fou Ye want to talk to you about?” Xiao Yan Zi asked again. “And don’t say nothing.”


    “About…our wedding…” Yong Qi said slowly.


    “Yong Qi, you don’t have to…you don’t have to marry me…I don’t want you to feel like you’re obligated…” Xiao Yan Zi said quietly.


    “Xiao Yan Zi! What are you talking about?”


    “I know Lao Fou Ye doesn’t want you to marry me…and besides, after what Hu Tai Yi said… I don’t want you to have to go through the pain, Yong Qi. Let’s just stop here, because if we do go on, it’s only going to hurt you and I don’t want you to have to …”


    “Xiao Yan Zi, whether I marry you or not will not change my feelings for you. You think just because I don’t marry you, I’ll suffer less when I have to lose you?”


    “It won’t do you any good to marry me…you’re just wasting your time…and eventually Lao Fou Ye will get you to marry someone else…you might as well…”


    The irony of the fact that Xiao Yan Zi had just repeated word for word what Lao Fou Ye had said to him a few minutes earlier struck Yong Qi hard. He closed his eyes for a moment, trying to calm himself. Then, resolutely, he opened his eyes and looked straight at Xiao Yan Zi.


    “Oh, so if I do marry someone else, it will make you feel better? Look at me, Xiao Yan Zi. If you could look me in the eyes and tell me that you could let me walk away from you right now and your heart won’t be breaking, then I will. If it truly will make you feel better then I will.”


    She stared back at him with tears in her eyes, her lips trembling.


    “My heart will be breaking, but…I love you, Yong Qi, I love you so much, and I only want you to be happy. I don’t want you to have to suffer, to go through all the pain you will have being married to me and…”


    Yong Qi didn’t let Xiao Yan Zi finish, he wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close to him. “You are so stupid, you know that? You are my happiness, Xiao Yan Zi. It will hurt like hell when I have to lose you, but I want to be with you. Xiao Yan Zi, I’m still trying to get used to the fact that one day close from now, I will lose you. I don’t know how I’ll be when that day does come but I know that I love you, and I want to bring you happiness. I want to give you all the love I could possibly…I want to make sure whatever time you have left the best years of your life…the happiest…I’ll suffer being away from you, Xiao Yan Zi, and knowing, later on, that what I could have had with you…Let me love you, Xiao Yan Zi, bring you happiness…I don’t want to look back ten years from now and regret that I could have done something…” Yong Qi broke off, and held Xiao Yan Zi closer to him.


    Xiao Yan Zi tightened her arms around him and for the first time since she heard Hu Tai Yi’s news of her illness, let herself cry. Xiao Yan Zi let each shattering sob break out of her and held on to Yong Qi desperately, as if she let go, her life will slip away from her.


    “I don’t want it to be like this. It’s not supposed to be like this. It’s not. I want…I want a life with you…to be your wife…to be able to have children and see them grow up and grow old with you…not like this…not like this…I want to still be alive fifty years from now and be telling our grandchildren about us…and now…even five years is probably too much to ask for…”


    All Yong Qi could do was to hold her in his arms. Tears silently rolled down his cheeks as Xiao Yan Zi let all her despair and fear that had been chained up in so many days pour out.


    “Whatever happens, I’m here. I’m here, love,” Yong Qi whispered in her hair, holding her tighter to himself.


    ***

  5. #5
    Senior Member hmschocolate's Avatar
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    Chapter 4: Happiness

    Yong Qi’s heart was beating wildly as he looked at the red-clad figure sitting on the bed beside him. Nothing prepared him for the overwhelming rush of feelings that was flowing through him right now. Here he was, at last, married to the woman he loved, and in a matter of moments, he would be able to see her beautiful face. It was all he could do not to reach over and take her hand.

    ~*~


    Xiao Yan Zi sat straight on the bed, knowing Yong Qi was next to her, yet not daring to sneak a glance over. She couldn’t see anything, anyway. The red silk cloth covering her face covered her range of vision so that everywhere she turned her eyes, all she saw was red. It only made Xiao Yan Zi more nervous as her hands gripped each other tightly on her laps. Xiao Yan Zi tried not to fidget but the anticipation was killing her.


    Xiao Yan Zi nearly jumped as the Lady of Ceremony spoke, telling Yong Qi he could lift the wedding cloth. Xiao Yan Zi was sure Yong Qi could practically hear her breathing and she closed her eyes as she took a deep breath, trying to calm her racing heart.


    ~*~


    Yong Qi took a deep breath and took the golden rod from the tray the Lady of Ceremony was offering him. He gripped the rod tightly in his hand, trying to steady his breath and stop himself from shaking as he slowly introduced the rod under the red cloth that was covering her face. In one swift motion, Yong Qi swept the silken material off Xiao Yan Zi’s face and it fluttered slowly onto the ground.


    There was Xiao Yan Zi, looking as beautiful as Yong Qi had ever seen her. As she slowly raised her face to meet his, Yong Qi could see the flush on her cheeks, the sparkle in her eyes that looked at him with so much love. She gave him a shy smile and Yong Qi couldn’t help but smile back. She was here, his wife. Yong Qi couldn’t help but feel a tidal wave of overwhelming love flooding him at that moment. If they had been alone, he would have swept her into his arms and kissed her for eternity.


    They gazed at each other until the Lady of Ceremony came forward with two cups of wine. Still looking at each other, they each took a cup and entwined their arms together to drink the wine. Xiao Yan Zi closed her eyes as the warm liquid flowed into her mouth and down her throat. The wine was as sweet as she had ever imagined it. As small as the cup was, the wine was making her totally drunk with love. She swallowed slowly as she savoured every moment of this ritual. She loved the feel of Yong Qi’s arm entwined in hers, knowing that he, too, was sharing every drop of this wine with her.


    Slowly, they disentangled their arms and returned the cups to the tray. Yong Qi couldn’t help it but reach over the take her hand in his, making her blush. They only had eyes for each as the Lady of Ceremony rattled off a bunch of auspicious phrases, tied the hems of their robes together and filed out of the room with the other Ladies.


    The doors closed to leave them alone with each other.


    For a while, neither of them said anything but just looked at each other. Then Yong Qi reached over and took her face in his hands, and breathed, “You are so beautiful.”


    For once, Xiao Yan Zi didn’t doubt him. She felt beautiful with him gazing at her like that, with so much love, so much desire in his eyes.


    As Yong Qi leaned closer to her, Xiao Yan Zi felt like she was running out of air. Her eyes fluttered closed just as Yong Qi’s lips rested on hers and moved over hers in a sweet and loving kiss. Yong Qi arms came around her shoulders as she leaned into his embrace, giving herself totally to the kiss, resting her whole body into his arms, wrapping her arms around his waist. Xiao Yan Zi looked shyly at Yong Qi as they slowly parted, both feeling decidedly light-headed and giddy.


    There were suddenly noises outside the door and sounds of something hard hitting against the door, followed by an “Ow!” that sounded suspiciously like Liu Qing.


    Yong Qi and Xiao Yan Zi looked at each other. Yong Qi grinned at put a finger to his lips and leaned down to untie their robes. Xiao Yan Zi went and blew out all but one candle so that whoever was outside couldn’t see what they were doing inside. Then, slowly, they tip-toed over to the door and slowly opened it.


    There was a crash as the tangle of bodies that was leaning against the door fell unceremoniously at their feet. Liu Qing, Liu Hong, Jin Suo, Xiao Jian, Qing Er, Ming Yue, Cai Xia, Xiao Deng Zi, Xiao Zhou Zi all scrambled up to see Yong Qi and Xiao Yan Zi standing there smirking at them.


    “You know, if you wanted to spy, you might want to actually keep the noises down,” Xiao Yan Zi said, laughing.


    Yong Qi just raised his eyebrow at the group and smiled. The ridiculousness of the situation made them all laugh. There was a burst of congratulations from the group as they withdrew and left the couple alone.


    Xiao Yan Zi laughed and closed the door behind her. She turned around to see Yong Qi gazing at her with eyes full of love and desire. Xiao Yan Zi blushed and looked down. Yong Qi took a step toward her and raised her chin so that she met his eyes. He slipped his arms around her waist, pulling her close to him. The one lonely candle in the darkened room made their shadows flicker on the wall and Yong Qi leaned down, touching his forehead to hers. Xiao Yan Zi raised her arms to wrap them around his neck. They stood in each other’s arms like that for a long moment, before Yong Qi closed the gap between them and lay a gentle kiss on her lips.


    “I love you,” she whispered, looking deep into his eyes.


    Yong Qi’s voice caught at the back of his throat. That was the first time she had said those three words to him since they’ve been married. Yong Qi tightened the grip of his arms around her to bring her closer to him, and gently kissed her forehead, followed by a kiss on the tip of her nose, then he placed a sweet, gentle kiss on her mouth. He trailed his lips over her jaw and down her neck.


    Xiao Yan Zi gasped as Yong Qi’s lips came in contact with her neck. It was the first time he had kissed her somewhere other than her face. The feel of his lips on her neck only made her heart beat faster and her arms tighten around his neck. Xiao Yan Zi couldn’t help let out a little moan as Yong Qi’s lips trailed over her throat, and she suddenly realised how very sensitive her skin had become.


    After what felt like a blissfully long time for Xiao Yan Zi, and she felt as if her knees were buckling beneath her, Yong Qi raised his face up to look at her, a smile on his face. Xiao Yan Zi looked back at him with a dazed look on her face, her eyes looking at him with utmost adoration and love. Yong Qi couldn’t help but leaned in a kiss her lips again. This time he trailed his lips up to a spot just underneath her earlobe and place a gentle kiss there, making her gasp, and whispered, “I love you, too.”


    “That was nice,” she whispered breathily.


    “What was?” Yong Qi asked, facing her again, cupping her cheeks in his hand.


    “That kiss. And what you said,” Xiao Yan Zi smiled at him.


    Yong Qi smiled back and leaned in to whisper in her ears, “You know, I intend to spend the rest of the night finding ways to make you gasp like that again.”


    Xiao Yan Zi could only blush in response.


    ~*~


    A long while later, they lay in each other’s arms. Yong Qi had pulled the heavy blanket over their bodies so that it draped like a tent around them in the semi-darkness.


    Yong Qi was still trying to get used to the fact that now she was his wife and kissing her was no longer considered a crime or indecent. From now on they won’t have to steal kisses behind the sculptures in the garden or behind closed doors, always looking behind their shoulders in fear of getting caught.


    Xiao Yan Zi giggled as Yong Qi nipped his teeth gently at her earlobe.


    “It tickles,” she said, trying to pull away from him, yet at the same time loving the feeling of his lips on her skin.


    Yong Qi only smiled at her and leaned down to place a gentle kiss on the faint scar on her chest, the lasting sign of how their lives came together in the hunting ground three years ago. As Yong Qi lifted his face and his eyes met hers, Xiao Yan Zi sighed.


    “What was that for?” he asked, brushing the tip of his nose against hers.


    Xiao Yan Zi gave a small smile. “I was just wondering if this is really real. I feel like I’m going to wake up any moment from a horribly sweet dream and find myself still at Shu Fang Zhai…”


    “Perhaps this will convince you how real this is,” Yong Qi said, then leaning down and give her a deep, passionate kiss that made her gasp when they parted.


    ***

  6. #6
    Senior Member hmschocolate's Avatar
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    Chapter 5: Morning

    This chapter is rated PG-13 for sexual implications. Skip it if you don’t want to read it. Really, you’re not missing anything. This part does nothing to the plot. Considering the heartbreaking plotline, I have to lace in sugar and fluff wherever I can.
    ***

    The next morning, Yong Qi woke up to find this arms wrapped around something very soft. He tried to open his eye and blur of red appeared before him. Yong Qi blinked. Why were his bed curtains red? He tried to raise his right hand to rub his eyes, but found something was lying on top of it. Lifting his left hand instead, Yong Qi turned to look beside him and blinked to see Xiao Yan Zi’s peacefully sleeping face inches from his own.

    It all came back to Yong Qi just then. This would explain why his bed curtains were suddenly red. It wasn’t a dream, after all. He was really married to the love of his life. His Xiao Yan Zi. She was here, as his wife.

    Yong Qi smiled as he remembered the night before. He tried to not to stir, thought his arms and legs, which were hopelessly entangled in Xiao Yan Zi’s, were waking up and aching in the positions they were in. Yong Qi looked at Xiao Yan Zi, taking in her beautiful face. He gently placed a small kiss on her hair, let his hand sink into the silken mass of it, and closed his eyes to enjoy the soft texture through his fingers. He couldn’t help but lean down and drop a kiss on the side of her face, waking her up.

    ~*~

    Xiao Yan Zi didn’t want to wake up. She felt warmer than she had ever been in her life. The dream she had been having was too good to wake up from. Sighing, she unconsciously snuggled closer to the pillow she was holding, her arms tightening around it and buried her face in it.

    Somewhere in the back of her mind, something tugged that her pillow normally didn’t feel like this. Slowly, she opened her eyes and suddenly, with no little panic, realised she was not holding a pillow to herself at all. Suppressing a scream, she glanced up to meet Yong Qi’s loving smile. She pulled suddenly away from him and closed her eyes for a moment, her face flushed red. Images of the night before slowly filtered into her head, and she remembered that she was married…so it wasn’t a dream after all…it was real…

    The realisation made her blush even more, especially when she realised her state of dress, or rather, lack *of*. Xiao Yan Zi sneaked a glance at him. Yong Qi was smiling at her and when catching her eyes, mouthed “I love you” at her. Xiao Yan Zi blushed even harder and pulled the covers over her head.

    She knew she was being ridiculous. She was married to him now, she shouldn’t be…embarrassed…

    “Xiao Yan Zi,” Yong Qi whispered softly, tugging at the covers. “Come on, love, come out…”

    “No,” Xiao Yan Zi mumbled.

    Yong Qi chuckled and his hands snaked under the covers, feeling for her waist. He could practically feel her blushing next to him as he hand came in contact with her skin…

    Xiao Yan Zi shrieked as Yong Qi started to tickle her.

    “Yong Qi, stop. Stop, please, stop. Yong Qi!” She desperately tried to control her laughter. Yong Qi didn’t reply but continued to mercilessly tickle her. She began kicking at the covers to try top stop him, making it slip off her. Yong Qi duly stopped tickling her and looked at her with loving eyes. Xiao Yan Zi was looking at the wall, her face flushed red, but her eyes were bright. Yong Qi tilted her chin towards him, making her eyes meet his.

    “You’re beautiful, you know that?” he whispered.

    Xiao Yan Zi didn’t reply, but looked at him shyly. He leaned down to kiss her lips.

    “This is a very nice way to wake up, if you could get over the embarassment eventually,” Yong Qi teased when they parted.

    Xiao Yan Zi blushed. “Well, what did you expect?” She said defensively. “It’s not like it was everyday I that wake up with my face this,” she held her finger and thumb close together, “far from a man’s chest.”

    “I should hope you had never done that before this morning,” Yong Qi teased, a smirk playing on his lips. Xiao Yan Zi mock glared at him.

    Yong Qi leaned over to kiss her, but before his lips could reach hers, Xiao Gui Zi’s voice sounded from outside the room, telling them it was time to get up. Yong Qi ignored the call and kissed her anyway. It was only until Xiao Gui Zi spoke again, this time sounding more urgent, that Yong Qi reluctantly broke away from Xiao Yan Zi with a groan, and said impatiently, “Yes, I heard you the first time.”

    Xiao Yan Zi giggled. She grabbed her clothes, pulled some of them on and, with a brief kiss on Yong Qi’s cheek, disappeared behind the door to her dressing room.

    ***

  7. #7
    Senior Member hmschocolate's Avatar
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    Chapter 6: Life

    A few days later

    “You know what I want? I want to have a baby,” Xiao Yan Zi said suddenly.


    Yong Qi stared at her for a long time. Then he said gently. “It’s not as if I’ve never thought about it, but Xiao Yan Zi, given your illness, do you really think it’s a good idea?”


    Xiao Yan Zi sighed. “I was thinking last night…about us, about what will happen in our lives considering how little time we have left together. And…Yong Qi, it’s like it suddenly occurred to me that really, there isn’t that much time left for me. And I realised how there’s just so many things I want to do in my life and…at the ways we’re looking at things, I’ll be lucky to get half of those things done. I can’t spend the next whatever years or months or days counting the days I have left to live. I want to just get on with my life as it is. For that, I want to be your wife, to be able to give you children, to be able to feel what it’s like to be a mother. I’m not saying it’s the ambition of the rest of my life to have a child at all costs. Of course I’ll speak to Hu Tai Yi about it. If he thinks it’s completely undoable then well…but…I still want to know, you know? I don’t want it not to be an option already now before we’re even aware of the situation we’re looking at…”


    Yong Qi looked at Xiao Yan Zi. Immense sorrow filled him as he realised how much their lives have turned upside-down, how a decision that should be completely natural as this, they had to weigh so pettily, instead of happily looking forward to it. He reached over and twisted a lock of her hair around his finger, sighing. “We shouldn’t even be having this conversation. We shouldn’t have to ask if it’s safe to have a child. It’s not supposed to be like this, Xiao Yan Zi.”


    “I know,” she said quietly. “But do you want to have a child, Yong Qi?”


    “A little you running around this place? I think the palace will burn down with two Huan Zhu Ge Ge!” Yong Qi joked. Xiao Yan Zi couldn’t help but laugh. Then Yong Qi turned more serious. “Yes,” he said soberly. “With you, yes. And I know you want to, and I want to be able to give you what you want.”


    “We’ll talk to Hu Tai Yi about this tomorrow, all right?”


    Yong Qi nodded, pulled Xiao Yan Zi into his arms and buried his face in her soft hair.


    Xiao Yan Zi was still in his arms for such a long time that at first Yong Qi thought she must had fallen asleep. Then, she whispered, “I love you, Yong Qi.”


    The three simple words she had said to him so many times before somehow now made his heart swell and Yong Qi could feel the emotions overwhelming him again. He tightened his arms around her and whispered in her ears, “I love you too. So much, Xiao Yan Zi.”


    ~*~


    The next morning, Hu Tai Yi was summoned to Jing Yang Gong.


    Xiao Yan Zi didn’t know if the answer Hu Tai Yi had for her question would devastate her or would make her happy, but she knew she had to ask. She couldn’t go on wondering what could have been. The feel of Yong Qi’s arms around her shoulders and his hand holding hers gave her strength.


    She took a deep breath and looked at Hu Tai Yi.


    “We would like to know…if you think it is advisable for us to consider having a child,” Xiao Yan Zi said slowly, hardly daring to look at Hu Tai Yi.


    Hu Tai Yi looked mildly surprised at Xiao Yan Zi’s question but then took a deep breath.


    “If I may have Your Highnesses’ permission to speak frankly.”


    “You may. This matter is related to Wu Fu Jin’s health, I would like you to tell us of all the risks,” Yong Qi told Hu Tai Yi.


    “In regard to Wu Fu Jin’s health, a lot of physicians would advise you against having a child. However, this does not mean that it is impossible for you to have a child in your current conditions. It just means that there are certain risks that would come with Fu Jin’s being with child and many physicians would prefer not to take that risk. However, if I may say this, I have to say I do understand Your Hignesses’ desire to have a child, and I have to say I support your wish. While having a child might bring certain risks to Fu Jin’s health conditions, if Fu Jin successfully carries a child to term for the child to be born healthy, then the psychological and emotional rewards that come with motherhood, I believe, would be more than beneficial to Fu Jin.”


    “Having said that, there are still, as I mentioned, risks. Multiple scleroris is not a hereditary condition so there will be no risks of the child obtaining the condition. Of course, right now, Fu Jin is naturally weaker than she used to be due to her illness. If Fu Jin was to be with child, she will naturally feel more tired than other women and will have to take care not to overexhert herself. She will also to take care not to procure any illnesses as it will weaken her greatly and be harmful to the foetus. However, because Fu Jin’s illness already drains strength from her, there is a slightly higher risk of miscarriage. I suppose the biggest risk is that pregnancy normally is a condition that is very exhausting and many women find it draining, especially the labour. Fu Jin will find that carrying the child to terms and then giving birth will take a lot of strength out of her. While I cannot be sure, but there is a risk of it draining Fu Jin’s strength that cannot be replaced and might shorten the time Fu Jin has left to live. It might bring on the end more quickly than it would have if Fu Jin didn’t have a child. Aside from these risks that might or might not happen, there is no other reason why Fu Jin should not be able to have a child. Fu Jin has the potential to carry a child to full term and give birth to a healthy baby. It is just fighting the risks on the way is what may be draining and dangerous in Fu Jin’s condition.”


    “So realistically, I could have a child, I just have to get through the nine months alive?” Xiao Yan Zi asked.


    Hu Tai Yi smiled slightly at Xiao Yan Zi’s quip. “And the recovery period after the labour, yes.”


    ~*~


    That night


    Xiao Yan Zi dropped herself heavily on the bed and stared up at the canopy above her. Yong Qi lay down beside her and took her hand in his, squeezing it tight.


    “Well, we talked to Hu Tai Yi. I don’t know if it was good news or bad news,” Yong Qi said.


    “Hu Tai Yi did say if we did decide to go through with this, he would make sure that it goes smoothly,” Xiao Yan Zi said.


    “That doesn’t reduce the risks though,” Yong Qi sighed. “Xiao Yan Zi, honestly, the thought of anything that might harm you, that might bring you pain or take you away from me just a day earlier rather than later, tears at my heart. For your safety, for your health, I would give up anything in the world. But for your happiness, I would do the same. And now, I’m faced with those two things that are so equally important to me but have almost opposite ways to achieve them. And I don’t know what to do.”


    “I would still be able to be happy if we didn’t have a baby you know. Having you in my life is enough to ensure all my happiness,” Xiao Yan Zi whispered, rolling over on her side so that she could wrap her arms around him.


    “But you still have that wish, don’t you, to be a mother? And I – I do want a baby too, Xiao Yan Zi. To be a father, to make you happy, to give you what you want, and to keep a part of you with me when I have to lose you,” Yong Qi held her closer to himself and buried his face in her hair. “But the thought of it harming your health, of it might be killing you or at least weakening you so that I might have to lose you sooner…I don’t know if I will be able to cope with that, Xiao Yan Zi.”


    They stayed silent in each other’s arms for a long time. Then Xiao Yan Zi pushed herself up on her elbow and looked at Yong Qi. “I want to have a baby, Yong Qi. I know it might make me die earlier or make me weaker but I would rather live just another year being happy that I’ve done what I wanted to do in my life than live the next ten years regretting what I could have had and hating myself that I couldn’t make my own happiness just because I feared death might be coming a little earlier. I think we’ve established that I am going to die anyway, it’s just a matter of when. Who knows, maybe even if we don’t have a baby, my illness might just kill me within the next year anyway. What we do know is that it’s all probable. Even the three years or whatever that Hu Tai Yi predicted for me, it’s all probable and we really can’t have a way to be sure of when or of whether we could delay or speed it up. I can’t look back and regret my life, Yong Qi. I have to go on living it. I want to take all the risks, because now, for me, even living is already a risk. Even just going out in the garden I have the risk of catching a cold or whatever and die from that. We can’t let my illness dictate our lives. I can’t live in fear, looking over my shoulder for death, because that’s not a life. I want a life that is mine, my happiness, what I want to do.”


    Yong Qi pulled her down into his arms and held her tight. “You know I’ll support you in whatever you want to do, Xiao Yan Zi. And you know I want this as well.”


    “Besides, you need someone to tell stories about me after I die, don’t you?” Xiao Yan Zi said, laughing slightly. Yong Qi smiled inspite of himself and held her close to him.


    “I love you, Xiao Yan Zi.”


    “I love you too.”


    ~*~

  8. #8
    Senior Member hmschocolate's Avatar
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    Chapter 7: Homework (Subtitled: Pointless Fluff)

    One day, Yong Qi came home from a morning court meeting to find Xiao Yan Zi in the study, with a book. The sight was so uncharacteristic of her that Yong Qi could only stand in the door way, staring at her in disbelief. Then he glanced out the window. The sun was shining outside, it was a beautiful day, and Xiao Yan Zi was inside, with a *book*?

    “What exactly are you doing?” Yong Qi asked, not able to hold back his laughter.


    “Reading,” Xiao Yan Zi shrugged, as if that was normal.


    “Reading?” Yong Qi questioned. Then he glanced at the cover of the book. “Xiao Yan Zi! That’s a book of poetry!” he exclaimed in mock horror.


    “Yes, I can see that, Yong Qi. I’m not *that* illiterate,” Xiao Yan Zi said, giving him a withering look over the top of the page.


    “Why exactly are you reading a book of poetry?” Yong Qi asked.


    “I thought I’d do some homework for Ji Shi Fu,” Xiao Yan Zi answered nonchalantly.


    Yong Qi stared at her. “Ok, let me get this straight. It’s a beautiful day outside, and you are voluntarily staying inside, to study poetry, something you hate to do, instead of going out to play?”


    “Yes,” she answered with great dignity.


    Yong Qi gaped at her further. “All right, who on earth are you and what have you done to my wife?” he asked mockingly.


    “Why are you so disbelieving that I am actually studying? Weren’t you always pestering me to study before?” Xiao Yan Zi put her book down and asked him, in a tone that implied he was the one acting strangely.


    “Well – I – “ Yong Qi looked at her in confusion. “Xiao Yan Zi, you hate to study, you hate learning poems, and now you’re doing just that and you’re asking why I’m surprised?”


    “I’m keeping my promise to you, you know,” Xiao Yan Zi shrugged.


    “What promise?”


    “I promised you I’d learn poetry and cheng yu for you. Well, when I promised that I was under the impression I had a life time to fulfill that promise and obviously now I don’t have a life time anymore. So I thought I might as well start now.”


    Despite the fact that she just reminded him of her impending death, Yong Qi laughed. “Xiao Yan Zi, I never expected you to fulfill that promise.”


    “You don’t think I’m capable of fulfilling it, then?” she asked huffily.


    “No, darling, I don’t need you to keep that promise, and if you’re not going to enjoy yourself keeping it, then I wouldn’t want you to keep it.”


    “What if I actually want to keep my promise?”


    “You want to learn poetry and cheng yu?” Yong Qi asked slowly.


    “Yes,” Xiao Yan Zi answered firmly.


    “Why?”


    “Because I don’t want to miss out on these things. I want to live the days I have left fully, including knowing these fancy words and being able to speak like you and Zi Wei and Er Kang.” There was something melancholy about her as she said this and looked up at him. “Will you help me?”


    Yong Qi gave her a small smile and pulled her into his arms. He placed a gentle, loving kiss on her forehead. “I never thought I’d see the day when you’re asking me to teach you literature. But now that I have, how could I say no?”


    ***


    Several hours later, Yong Qi felt Xiao Yan Zi had learnt more in those hours willingly than she had accomplished in all the months that she was forced to learn.


    “You know, you’re not so bad a student when you are willing,” Yong Qi smiled and kissed her cheek.


    “Or you’re just a better teacher when you don’t have the threat of a broken engagement over your head,” Xiao Yan Zi smiled back.


    “I wonder why that is,” Yong Qi commented sarcastically as he gathered up the sheets of paper that Xiao Yan Zi had been practicing calligraphy on. Then he laughed, “I never thought I’d see the day when you learn the meaning of so many cheng yu in one go.”


    “So have I been very good today?” Xiao Yan Zi asked, pouting.


    “Very,” Yong Qi laughed.


    “Then I think I deserve a reward?” she said cheekily.


    “Reward, hmm?” he smiled suggestively at her. “I think some homework is in order.”


    “Homework?” Xiao Yan Zi exclaimed. “Yong Qi, really, enough is enough. Besides, this *is* home, I already worked, therefore done my homework. I was thinking more along the line of persuading Huang Ah Ma to let me go out more than twice a month.”


    “I was thinking of another assignment,” Yong Qi continued to look at her cheekily.


    “What assignment?” Xiao Yan Zi asked suspiciously.


    “One I think you might very much enjoy…Or at least, I hope you will very much enjoy.”


    “Yong Qi, I might be willing to learn now, but seriously, very much enjoying it is pushing it a bit,” Xiao Yan Zi pouted.


    “You don’t even know what the assignment is, Xiao Yan Zi,” Yong Qi pointed out.


    “What is it, then?” she asked skeptically.


    Without answering, Yong Qi grabbed her waist, pulling her to him, taking her by surprise and kissing her lips passionately. When she had recovered from her brief moment of shock, she kissed him back wholeheartedly. When the parted, Yong Qi raised an eyebrow at her and Xiao Yan Zi only had time to smile before he picked her up into his arms and carried her into the bedroom.


    ~*~

  9. #9
    Senior Member hmschocolate's Avatar
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    Chapter 8: Growth

    One morning, Xiao Yan Zi woke up, feeling like she was recovering from a week’s worth of the flu. As she tried to get out of bed, she felt so dizzy that she stumbled and would have fallen to the ground if Yong Qi didn’t reach out and catch her in his arms.

    “Xiao Yan Zi, are you all right?”


    “I’m – I don’t know…I just feel really dizzy…” Xiao Yan Zi murmured, holding her head, leaning against Yong Qi.


    “Get back in bed. I’ll call for Tai Yi,” Yong Qi said sharply, and not waiting for Xiao Yan Zi to protest, he called for the eunuchs to summon Hu Tai Yi and Xiao Yan Zi’s maids to tend to her before going to dress.


    “Don’t you have the court meeting to get to?” Xiao Yan Zi asked as Yong Qi came back, decidedly not dressed for the meeting.


    “You really can’t think I’m going with you ill? I got Xiao Gui Zi to ask Huang Ah Ma to excuse me,” Yong Qi said, looking at Xiao Yan Zi worriedly.


    “Yong Qi, you shouldn’t do that…then people will be talking…they’ll say I’m begging for attention or…and Huang Ah Ma needs you…” Xiao Yan Zi said, taking his hand. “Really, just go, I’m fine. Hu Tai Yi will look at me and I’ll take whatever horrible tasting medicine he sets and be all right. Really, it’s probably just a flu or something trivial.”


    Yong Qi smiled, and leaned down to kiss her cheek. “I think Huang Ah Ma can do one morning without me. Besides, it will make Da A Ge’s day not to have me around anyway. That way he gets to do all the talking. I’ll stay to see Hu Tai Yi then I’ll go and see Huang Ah Ma. Don’t worry, if Huang Ah Ma desperately needs me, it’s not as if I’m galloping off to Mongolia or anything. Besides, I really don’t care what other people think, you need me right now and I’m staying here where you need me.”


    Xiao Yan Zi gave him a small smile. “Thanks,” she whispered, pulling him down for a kiss.


    A knock on the door broke their kiss as Xiao Yan Zi stifled a laugh. After an incident of Xiao Gui Zi walking in on them locked deep in a kiss, all the servants took extra care to knock before they entered a room.


    “Enter,” Yong Qi called.


    Hu Tai Yi came in and asked Xiao Yan Zi some question about her health. As Xiao Yan Zi described the symtoms she had that morning, Hu Tai Yi’s expression became thoughtful as he looked at Xiao Yan Zi for a moment. Then, Hu Tai Yi glanced at Yong Qi and said, “Wu A Ge, if I might have a moment with Wu Fu Jin alone?”


    A worried expression appeared on Yong Qi’s face as he nodded. “I beg Wu A Ge not to worry, I don’t believe it is anything very dangerous but I have some questions to ask Wu Fu Jin which might be on the delicate side.”


    It didn’t really reassure Yong Qi of what might be wrong with his wife, so the five minutes he was outside the room, pacing in the corridoor felt like five hours, after which Hu Tai Yi opened the door and invited him back into the room.


    Xiao Yan Zi was sitting on the bed, looking somewhat nervous and hopeful. Yong Qi sat down next to her and took her hand while Hu Tai Yi faced them.


    “Addressing Wu A Ge and Wu Fu Jin, I believe that Wu Fu Jin is currently with child.”


    A gasp from Xiao Yan Zi followed this announcement . Yong Qi heard the words Hu Tai Yi said but they sank in less rapidly. He blinked several times to make sure that he really was awake. A grin grew on his face as the reality of the news sunk into him. Xiao Yan Zi let out a shaky little laugh as Hu Tai Yi went on outlining to them how Xiao Yan Zi must take care of herself during the course of her pregnancy and what precautions must be taken.


    As soon as Hu Tai Yi had left, Yong Qi swept Xiao Yan Zi up in an embrace and held her tight,


    “Xiao Yan Zi, my most wonderful Xiao Yan Zi,” he breathed in her ears.


    Xiao Yan Zi laughed and wrapped her arms around Yong Qi’s waist, whispering, “I love you.”


    After a long while, Yong Qi loosened his arms around her and cupped her cheeks in his hands, raising her chin up so that she looked up at him. “I really still can’t believe it, Xiao Yan Zi. I can’t believe this is happening. Is it true? We’re having a baby?”


    Xiao Yan Zi smiled softly and took his hand, placing it over her abdomen and leaned back into his arms. “You know, I can hardly register it either. It’s just so strange. Part of me can feel our child inside me, but at the same time, I don’t feel any different. Is that not strange?”


    “Our child. Oh Heaven, Xiao Yan Zi, our child,” Yong Qi whispered breathlessly. “How are we supposed to last seven more months of waiting?”


    “Now I know what Zi Wei meant when she said she was terrified and thrilled to know that she’s pregnant. Yong Qi, I’m thrilled but I’m also very afraid. Just sitting there listening to what Hu Tai Yi was saying, I can’t help but think, what if something goes wrong? What if…”


    Yong Qi pulled her tighter into his arms. “Don’t think about that. Xiao Yan Zi, it’s going to be all right. We’ll get through this together, it’s going to be fine. I’m here for you whenever you need me.”


    Xiao Yan Zi buried her face in his chest and listened to the rhythm of his heartbeat next to her ear. A rush of overpowering feelings was flushing over her that Xiao Yan Zi hardly had time to differentiate what they were. There was an overwhelming bout of happiness covering her, so powerful that it made her feel shaky. Yet now that her dreams had come true, Xiao Yan Zi wondered how she would cope in the future, having this child and knowing that she most probably won’t live to see it grow up. The thought about having her child grow up hardly knowing her was painful as anything Xiao Yan Zi has ever felt. Even if she knew Yong Qi wouldn’t let her child’s life completely devoid of her images, the thought of leaving this happiness she was feeling made Xiao Yan Zi want to break down and cry.


    Tears came to Xiao Yan Zi’s eyes before she could hold them back and she was grateful that Yong Qi couldn’t see her tears. She knew it would hurt him if he saw the pain mixed with the happiness she was feeling now. But she couldn’t stop Yong Qi feel her shaking in his arms.


    “Are you all right, Xiao Yan Zi?” Yong Qi asked quietly.


    Xiao Yan Zi was silent for a long moment. Then, despite of herself, she asked, her voice shaky “You’ll make sure our child will know me, won’t you, Yong Qi, after I’m gone?”


    Yong Qi could now understand why Xiao Yan Zi was suddenly so quiet. He shifted his arms so that her head rested on his shoulder and buried his face in the crook of her neck, breathing in the sweet scent of her hair. He suddenly understood, as much as Xiao Yan Zi wanted this, as happy as she was feeling now, of course there was the fear and the pain of knowing what might happen in a few years’ time.


    Yong Qi took Xiao Yan Zi’s shoulder and pulled her away so that they faced each other. He leaned over and kissed away the tears still lingering on her cheeks. “I promise, Xiao Yan Zi, that our child will know what a wonderful, beautiful, and kind person their mother is.”


    Xiao Yan Zi smiled.


    “I love you,” she whispered.


    ~*~


    Five months later


    Xiao Yan Zi looked up from her book at Yong Qi sitting at the writing desk on the opposite side of the room to her, working on a report for Qian Long. A small smile appeared on her lips as she observed how his eyebrow would come together in a small frown when he was concentrating. Xiao Yan Zi put aside her book and for a moment just gazed at Yong Qi. She knew he had been more than supporting to her in the last few months. It seemed to her, as great as the prospect of being a mother maybe, the strain of pregnancy was draining her more than her illness had ever done. And Yong Qi had duly put up with her high temper, her constant mood-swings and her bouts of insecurity. He would never tire of assuring her, whenever she felt the least bit insecure about her now rounder figure, that she was always beautiful in his eyes. At least, Xiao Yan Zi thought wryly, I don't get any weird cravings or have morning sickness. Now in her seventh month of pregnancy, Xiao Yan Zi was impatiently waiting the birth of the child inside her.


    It was time like this that Xiao Yan Zi wryly appreciated the etiquettes of the palace. At least in the palace she could rely on getting a wet-nurse who would help her with the baby. After all, she hardly thought she could cope with the stress with the baby on her own, especially in her illness. If she did have to, she would probably drive Yong Qi crazy with her stress. When she first came into the palace, the idea of giving up your child to be raised by another woman was incredible to her. It occured to her then as if the women in rich families were running away from their duty as a mother, more concerned with the shape of their bodies than the well being of their child. It seemed now that she would have to eat her words and accept that having a wetnurse would take the stress of getting up in the middle of the night off her and give her more time to enjoy with the baby while she could.


    Zi Wei herself had just given birth to a baby boy named Guang Qing ten days ago and already she told Xiao Yan Zi of the great relief the wet-nurse had provided her. Of course, these days Xiao Yan Zi couldn't spend half as much time with Zi Wei as she wanted, as having just had a baby, Zi Wei was pretty much still confined to her home, and Yong Qi of course wouldn't dream of letting Xiao Yan Zi take such journeys in a carriage without him in her condition. Consequently Xiao Yan Zi has seen very little of her best friend in the last month. However Xiao Yan Zi was still grateful for Qing Er's and Ling Fei's company in the palace. If she couldn't get to them often, at least they could come to her and keep her company with relative ease.


    Xiao Yan Zi could hardly remember the last time she has been out of the palace. First she was confined to the palace from her illness, then her pregnancy. Yong Qi, wanting to ensure nothing goes wrong in the pregnancy, has insisted that she should never set foot out of the house alone, without at least one skilled martial artist at her back. Consequently, disliking having servants following her every step, Xiao Yan Zi didn't go out of Jing Yang Gong often.


    As much as she missed being able to run free in the gardens, Xiao Yan Zi really couldn't blame Yong Qi for his over-protectiveness. She knew the thing he feared most, and come to think of it, the thing she feared most as well, right now, was for him to have to lose her. Xiao Yan Zi knew Yong Qi lived in constant foreboding of waiting for her death. She knew, as much as they wanted their lives to be normal, there was still a certain fear, a fear that they didn't confide in each other but both knew they had.


    Yong Qi looked up from his work and met Xiao Yan Zi's eyes. He smiled lovingly at her, a smile which Xiao Yan Zi returned happily. Long gone were the days when she wondered if he really loved her, and asked herself why he would prefer her to all the other ladies at court. She knew now, more than anything in the world, that in his heart, there was only her images. As overwhelming as this knowledge may be, Xiao Yan Zi still felt a sweet satisfaction to be able to know this. She never knew how she came to be so lucky, but she knew that she would always be grateful for it.


    Yong Qi mouthed "One minute" at her before turning back to finish his work. Then he placed his brush down, capped it and joined her on the couch where she was sitting. Yong Qi dropped himself down beside her, and leaned over to place a kiss on her temple. Xiao Yan Zi took his hands in hers and pulled him down to place a long, lingering kiss on his lips. Yong Qi wrapped his arm around her, placing one hand on her swollen stomach and deepened the kiss.


    When they broke apart, Xiao Yan Zi smiled softly at him, but didn't say anything. They sat there in each other's arms for a long while, just totally silent, savouring the happiness of being together. Xiao Yan Zi sighed as she tucked her head under his chin and snuggled into his arms. She loved times like this when she could just enjoy being with him, savouring the warmth of his embrace, loving the feeling of his arms around her.


    Xiao Yan Zi sighed again. She took Yong Qi's hands in hers and raised them to her lips, kissing his knuckles. "Thank you," she whispered.


    Yong Qi leaned down to kiss her neck, and asked, "For what?"


    "For being here for me. Oh Yong Qi, I know I haven't exactly cheerful these past few months. You've been really good, you know, to have put up with my moodswings and foul temper."


    "I suppose I do have some contribution to getting you to the state of having moodswings and foul temper, don't you think?" Yong Qi teased. Then, more soberly, he said, "It's a small price to pay, Xiao Yan Zi, for the happiness we're about to get. I can't wait for the baby to be born, Xiao Yan Zi. Sometimes the whole idea is just so strange to me. In two months we will be parents and I still can't quite get used to the idea."


    "Well, I suppose it's easier for me to realise the idea than you considering I'm going through this, doesn't it?" Xiao Yan Zi smiled at him. She leaned back into his arms and sighed contentedly. She sighed. "I have to confess, though, I'm scared. I really am afraid, Yong Qi. I don't know if...if I can get through this. I really don't know what I feel half the times nowadays. I mean, there is the joy and the anticipation but there's still...I still feel so...scared sometimes."


    "Would it freak you out greatly if I told you I am afraid as well?" Yong Qi asked, resting his chin on her head. "I just wonder when the time comes, how on earth I will put up with the anticipation."


    They were silent for a long moment, then Yong Qi asked, "Does it hurt?"


    "What? Having the baby?"


    "No, I know that hurts. Being pregnant."


    "No. It's a weird feeling, really. It's sort of like having butterflies fluttering in your stomach. It's such a wonderful feeling sometimes, when you sit down and think and realise that there's a real life human being growing inside you. It's just really overwhelming to realise it but at the same time so wonderful. Sometimes I think I could feel the baby’s heart beats. I have never thought I could love someone as much as you, but I think it’ll give you fair competition for my love," she teased.


    Yong Qi laughed. "I think I can handle a little competition from a newborn. Besides I think I'll be too busy falling in love with it to mind that you might be paying more attention to it than to me. Besides, I've had you to myself all this time, haven't I?"


    Xiao Yan Zi smiled and turned to face him, taking his face into her hands and pulled him down for a long, passionate kiss.


    Xiao Yan Zi took his hands in hers and kissed his palms. "Whatever happens in the future, Yong Qi, know that I love you very very much. I don't know what I've done to deserve your love like this, but I'll never regret having you in my life."


    "Oh Xiao Yan Zi," Yong Qi sighed and buried his face into the dark curtain of her hair, inhaling the sweet scent, loving the smooth texture on his cheeks. "I love you so much, you know that? So much more than I could ever tell you."


    "I know," she whispered.


    "Come, come to bed, I'll show you how much I really love you," he smiled, and taking her hand, he pulled her into the bedroom.


    That night was tender and sweet, a night that Xiao Yan Zi knew she would never forget. She smiled everytime she thought of it afterwards. They didn’t even make love, as Yong Qi was reluctant to these days for fear of hurting the baby, but just sat in bed together. Yong Qi placed sweet kisses all over her, showering her in silent words of love. The kisses were loving, tender and intense, filled with so much love that by the time both of them drifted to sleep, Xiao Yan Zi was feeling rather drunk from the sweetness Yong Qi had poured all over her.


    ~*~

  10. #10
    Senior Member hmschocolate's Avatar
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    Chapter 9: Wonder

    Yong Qi knew he should be listening to what his father was saying. He was at Qian Qing Gong. The morning court meeting was over, but Qian Long had some matters to discuss with Yong Qi that he had requested Yong Qi to stay. While Yong Qi had obliged, his mind was definitely not concentrating on what his father had to say. Xiao Yan Zi had not been feeling well of late and he wanted desperately to be home with her. However, Yong Qi knew, of course, no matter how much he might want to be home right now with Xiao Yan Zi, he still had his duties and he couldn't very well ignore those altogether.

    "Yong Qi!" Qian Long said, snapping Yong Qi out of his reverie.


    "I - I beg Huang Ah Ma to forgive me..." he stammered for a moment before Qian Long interrupted him.


    "All right, Yong Qi, I can see your mind is definitely not in it today. It's understandable, of course. Go home and be with Xiao Yan Zi, Yong Qi. Send her my best and tell her I'll drop by later today."


    Yong Qi stood up, and couldn't resist a grin, bowed and said, "Thank you Huang Ah Ma!"


    Qian Long chuckled and shook his head at his son's obvious impatience to get out of the room.


    Yong Qi quickly exited Qian Qing Gong and hurried in the direction of Jing Yang Gong. He was in such a hurry that he didn't notice a person walking towards him until he almost crashed into him. It was Xiao Gui Zi, who, breathing heavily, said that he had been sent to fetch his master home immediately. The alarmed look on Xiao Gui Zi's face gave Yong Qi a sense of dread, that without waiting to hear any more he sprang into a run and was within Jing Yang Gong in seconds. He raced into the bedroom and nearly collided with Ming Yue, in the hallway.


    "Oh, Wu A Ge," she cried "thank goodness you've arrived! It seems that the baby is coming. Hu Tai Yi and the midwives have been sent for. I have also sent word to Ling Fei Niang Niang and Zi Wei Ge Ge.”


    They entered the room and he crossed to the bed to take up her hand. She seemed incredibly hot to the touch and her face was beaded with perspiration. Feeling his touch, Xiao Yan Zi turned her face toward him and opened her eyes.


    "Oh, Yong Qi, please don't leave. Don't leave me." she mumbled. She gripped his hand tightly and was breathing heavily, wincing in pain.


    Before he could say anything to sooth her, Ling Fei was announced and the lady herself rushed into the room. Ling Fei took one look at Xiao Yan Zi and felt that her fever was high, and began questioning the maids on their mistress’ condition.


    The worried look on Ling Fei’s face and Xiao Yan Zi’s feverish state did nothing to calm Yong Qi and he sat down on the bed beside her, stroking her cheek, placing a gentle kiss on her hot forehead.


    “I’m here, love, it’s going to be all right. I’m here. Speak to me, darling.”


    Xiao Yan Zi looked at him, and Yong Qi could see fear in her eyes. He tried to calm his own breathing and tried to look less terrified than he was really feeling. He didn’t want her to have to worry about him as well. "I'm so afraid,” she whispered. Her voice sounded very weak. "I have this terrible sense of foreboding. Yong Qi, please, promise me something. If the baby gets through this and I don’t…promise me you’ll be a good father to it…that you’ll keep all your previous promises to me. Whatever happens to me!”


    He was horrified and couldn’t help but show it on his face. Xiao Yan Zi had never sounded so morbid. "Yes, yes I promise. But my love, nothing, nothing shall happen to you! It’s going to be fine" He didn’t know if he was trying to convince himself or her.


    At that moment, however, Hu Tai Yi and the midwives arrived and Ling Fei put her hand on his shoulder, telling him to leave the room.


    “But…” Yong Qi protested, looking up at Ling Fei, holding Xiao Yan Zi’s hand even tighter.


    “Come, Yong Qi. It’s better for you to wait outside. This is not a place for men. Xiao Yan Zi will be fine. Come.” Ling Fei was determinedly pulling Yong Qi out of the room.


    Placing one last kiss on Xiao Yan Zi’s cheek, whispering to her that he loved her, Yong Qi allowed Ling Fei to take him out of the room. Before she could return, though, Yong Qi looked at Ling Fei. “She is all right, isn’t she? Niang Niang, please tell me she’s all right, that the fever is just a normal occurrence…”


    Ling Fei looked at Yong Qi’s worried face for a moment, seemingly thinking things over before telling him, “Yong Qi, I’m not going to lie to you. I’m sure Hu Tai Yi have discussed this with both of you, that with Xiao Yan Zi’s illness, there is a slighter higher risk in her giving birth. The fever…the fever is not entirely normal, and even in normal circumstances, the first birth is always the hardest. I really don’t know how it will turn out, having never…but I promise you, Yong Qi, we’ll try our best.”


    At that moment, Zi Wei and Er Kang rushed into the room. Taking one look at the worried expression on Yong Qi’s face, Zi Wei hugged him briefly before entering to room to Xiao Yan Zi.


    “I must go in. Yong Qi, why don’t you go somewhere and sit with Er Kang. I know it will be difficult but it’s going to best for Xiao Yan Zi if you could calm yourself a bit. Er Kang - “ Ling Fei looked over at Er Kang standing behind Yong Qi.


    “Niang Niang, I’ll take care of him. You go,” Er Kang said. Then, taking Yong Qi’s arm, he pulled him down the hallway, saying, “Come on, into the study.”


    As Er Kang closed the door to the study behind them, Yong Qi started to pace, trying desperate to wear out the nervousness and the fear that was building up in him.


    “You’re going to wear a hole in the floor,” Er Kang tried to joke dryly, though knowing his friend was in no mood for such trivialities. Yong Qi paused for a moment long enough in his pacing to glare at Er Kang before resuming his walk. Then, perhaps seeing his friend had a point, Yong Qi tried to sit down in a chair, but soon found the attempt futile. Shaking his head in frustration, he resumed his pacing.


    ~*~


    It had been three, no, four hours – Yong Qi corrected himself – since he had arrived home to find his wife in agony. Ling Fei was wrong. It was not difficult to sit here with Er Kang waiting for news of the birth. It was sheer agony. Especially when he could acutely hear his wife’s cries of pain. Yong Qi couldn’t see how his father had endured this state so many times. But then again, he thought wryly, his father probably wasn’t even in the same building for most of his children’s births.


    It didn’t comfort him to know how bleak Xiao Yan Zi’s chances of surviving this whole ordeal was. Now, pacing in his study, Yong Qi wondered if they had been wise in making this decision to have a baby. He knew Xiao Yan Zi said she had to go on living her life no matter what, but there was still that one selfish part of him that wished they were not going through this, that if they haven’t decided this, he would be more sure of having her with him for a longer bit of time. His thoughts kept circling back to the same point in time – Xiao Yan Zi extracting a promise from him because she had feared that she would die. Any moment he expected confirmation of that fear. It was a fear he didn’t start to feel just now, but had been dreading for months, knowing that it was looming close over their heads.


    In the hours that the two of them had been trapped in this room together, Yong Qi had bared his soul in a way he had never done before, pouring out at Er Kang all his fears and dread. Er Kang didn’t say much but just sat, letting Yong Qi talk and pace out his nerves. This was a good thing, Yong Qi thought, since I've done more talking today than in the whole of our lives. He had refused the food that came with lunch time, though Er Kang made sure some food was left behind, intending to persuade him to eat anyway. Yong Qi knew his father was outside in the sitting room somewhere but he couldn’t make himself face anyone right now.


    Leaning against the desk, closing his eyes for a moment, Yong Qi pictured Xiao Yan Zi in pain. It was as if something snapped inside him, and he straightened up. “I can’t take this anymore,” he told Er Kang. Then he pulled he door open, ignoring Er Kang calling behind him, and made his way to the bedroom.


    Likewise ignoring the protests of the maids rushing in and out of the room, Yong Qi made his way straight to the bed, where Xiao Yan Zi was looking exhausted. She looked a little relieved, however, to see him. He took her hand in his and kissed the palm of her hand.


    Of course, the midwives put up a storm of protest before Ling Fei sighed and said “Let him stay. It will do her good. It’s no time to bother with etiquettes right now.”


    “I love you,” he whispered, pressing a kiss to her cheek.


    That long day and night that Xiao Yan Zi went through in labour was one that neither of them ever forgot. He held her hand in his tightly all the way through, and whenever she was hit with a wave of fresh pain, she squeezed his hand, so hard that by the end of the night, her nails had dug into his hand, drawing blood. Yong Qi ignored the dull pain in his palm, knowing it was only a fraction to what Xiao Yan Zi was going through.


    It was a great relief to them when, deep into the night, Xiao Yan Zi finally gave birth to a baby girl. Xiao Yan Zi had given a shaky breath of relief before passing out due to exhaustion. Once he had secured the fact that his wife was in no immediate danger, and that his daughter was healthy, Yong Qi let himself being taken out of the room by Ling Fei and Zi Wei while the maids cleaned up the place and move Xiao Yan Zi to a clean bed. He leaned heavily against the closed bedroom door and sighed with relief. He had never felt so drained and tired yet so happy in his whole life. Xiao Yan Zi was all right, and they had a baby. He was a father.


    The thought slowly sunk into him as a silly grin appeared on his face. Only when Zi Wei gripped his arm to stop him from collapsing that Yong Qi realised that he’s gone a whole day without food or any sleep.


    “Yong Qi, you really should get Hu Tai Yi to look at your hand. Then get some food or some sleep. You’re exhausted,” Zi Wei told him gently. Ling Fei had gone to tell Er Kang and Qian Long, who had both fallen asleep outside in the sitting room, the news.


    “So are you,” he smiled at his sister.


    “Yes,” she sighed. “What are you calling her, anyway? You can’t very well call her Baby for the rest of her life.”


    “Bao Zhu, we decided in the end. We had more fun choosing girls’ name than boys’ name. A lot less restriction.”


    “I’d say. But oh, Yong Qi, she’s so beautiful.”


    “Who, the baby? Or Xiao Yan Zi?” Yong Qi smiled.


    “Both,” Zi Wei smiled back.


    “Yes, they are,” Yong Qi said, closing his eyes for a moment. Then he straightened up and pulled Zi Wei into a hug. “Thank you, Zi Wei.”


    Zi Wei smiled and hugged him back. Then, releasing him, she said, “Now, go. After you get your hand cleaned up, you can go see Bao Zhu and get some sleep. You look like you could pass out on your feet. I think you’re not going to get up until dinner time tomorrow.”


    “You’ve better get yourself and Er Kang home too. Or better yet, just stay here. I don’t think you two will make it home.”


    “Sure.”


    ~*~


    Contrary to Zi Wei’s prediction, even considering it was near dawn when he went to bed, Yong Qi only slept until noon the next day. He rose to find that Er Kang and Zi Wei were still asleep in the guest room. While he would like to have waited for them to rise to breakfast, he was too hungry to do so, having gone to bed the night before without food. He ate before going into Xiao Yan Zi’s room, to find her sleeping peacefully on the bed, and Bao Zhu in Qing Er’s arms.


    Qing Er looked up when she heard him enter the room and smiled.


    “I came with Lao Fou Ye. Lao Fou Ye was here most of the morning, but we didn’t want to wake you considering you only went to bed as we rose. Lao Fou Ye said I could stay. She wouldn’t let me come yesterday, you know, since it was inappropriate for an unmarried woman to be in the birth chamber. How are you?”


    “A right sight better than yesterday I assure you. I think yesterday was the longest day of my life. And just about the most painful. And I’m not talking about my hand.”


    Qing Er smiled. “It was worth it, I should think. Here you go, I’ve been holding her for half an hour, I need a break and I don’t think you’ve had much opportunity to hold her yet.”


    Yong Qi took his daughter into his arms and gazed at her with wonder, for the first time really registering the fact that he was a father. He had been too exhausted the night before to notice much of his surroundings.


    “I just wonder…is she supposed to be this tiny?” he breathed.


    “I think Ling Fei said she is actually not small at all. She looks like you, you know,” Qing Er said.


    “With Xiao Yan Zi’s eyes, though,” Yong Qi noted. Bao Zhu’s eyes were opened wide, staring at him with such intensity that Yong Qi wondered to himself it that was normal. But then, after a moment, what was unmistakable as a smile appeared on her lips. Yong Qi smiled back, feeling a incredible rush of love sweeping over him, more intense that he was even prepared for. “You know, that’s what I first fell in love with, Xiao Yan Zi’s eyes. Whenever I look into her eyes, I feel as if I’m falling in love with her all over again.”


    “And now, you’ll have those eyes with you for a long time yet,” Qing Er sighed. Yong Qi looked up from Bao Zhu’s face at her. Seeing the momentary pain in Qing Er’s eyes, Yong Qi realised what she was talking about. Suddenly, a painful lump appeared in his throat and Yong Qi closed his eyes, trying not to let his tears fall. He leaned down and placed a kiss on Bao Zhu’s forehead, inhaling the sweet strange scent on his newborn daughter.


    Qing Er turned away, knowing that if she looked at Yong Qi, she, too, would start crying. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have brought it up.”


    “I guess to a certain degree I’m still trying to run away from the reality…but…”


    “We can’t. We’ve all been trying to deny it. But we just can’t,” Qing Er whispered.


    “No.”


    They were silent for a long time. Then, Qing Er said, “I’ll leave you alone. I’ll be around. If you need anything, just call. I’ll go see if Zi Wei and Er Kang are up.”


    Yong Qi nodded and Qing Er exited the room. Just as she did, Xiao Yan Zi stirred in the bed. Yong Qi slowly put Bao Zhu in her cradle beside the bed before turning back to Xiao Yan Zi and leaning down to place a kiss on her lips.


    “Good morning, my love,” he whispered against her lips. “How are you feeling?”


    “It’s still morning?” she asked weakly.


    “Well, more like noon, I think. How are you?”


    “All right. Sore. I don’t know. Thirsty. Hungry. Happy.”


    Yong Qi smiled and went to the table to get her a cup of tea. Slowly, he helped her sit up and drink it. “I’ll go get the kitchen to make you some food.”


    Xiao Yan Zi smiled and nodded. Yong Qi exited the room for a moment to tell Qing Er that Xiao Yan Zi was awake and hungry, before turning to her again. He sat down on the edge of the bed with her, took her hands in his and smiled. She leaned back against the many pillows on her bed and raised his hands up to her lips to kiss them. Then, seeing his bandaged hand, she asked, “What’s wrong with your hand?”


    “Nothing, just a small cut.”


    Xiao Yan Zi raised her eyebrows.


    “Seriously. From your nails, in fact,” he smiled.


    “Oh. I’m sorry. You shouldn’t have gone on holding my hand last night if I was hurting you,” she chatised.


    “Come on, Xiao Yan Zi, the pain was nothing compared to what you were going through.” He leaned over and kissed her lips. “I love you, I love you for going through all this. You were wonderful.”


    “Where is she?”


    “Here. She was awake a moment ago, but I think she’s drifted off now.”


    “Yong Qi, I want to hold her.”


    Yong Qi stood and lifted Bao Zhu from her cradle and handed her to Xiao Yan Zi. Xiao Yan Zi bit her lips to hold back tears as she held on to her daughter. “Oh Yong Qi, she’s so…”


    “Perfect. It’s incredible, isn’t it? We did this, Xiao Yan Zi, we made her,” Yong Qi leaned close to her and whispered.


    “Yeah. It’s just so…I never thought it would feel like this, Yong Qi…it’s such a wonderful feeling…” Xiao Yan Zi breathed.


    “I know.”


    “You don’t mind, do you?” Xiao Yan Zi looked up at him abruptly. “That she’s a girl?”


    “Oh Xiao Yan Zi, I wouldn’t change her for the world. Besides, she has your eyes, one of the things I love most about you, so I’m not complaining.”


    “She does not,” Xiao Yan Zi exclaimed.


    “Yes she does. I saw.”


    Xiao Yan Zi just looked at the baby in her arms for a long moment. Then she breathed, “She’s our baby, Yong Qi, our baby, our child. Oh my god.”


    Yong Qi smiled and kissed her forehead. “I know, that’s what I felt like the first time I held her. It’s so…surreal. And I’ve been using that word a lot.”


    They laughed. “Well, you know, I’m sure Lao Fou Ye is happy she’s a girl,” Xiao Yan Zi sighed.


    “Why?”


    “Because if Lao Fou Ye wants to keep her hope of making you Tai Zi, she would have to get you to marry again to get you a son,” Xiao Yan Zi said dryly


    “Good luck to Lao Fou Ye then. Her intention’s not about to be realised anytime soon if that’s the case.”


    “Yong Qi…” Xiao Yan Zi started.


    “Xiao Yan Zi, no. We are not talking about that now. Can’t we just enjoy Bao Zhu for now? I don’t think I have the mind to think of anything else…”


    Xiao Yan Zi sighed then smiled at him. “I love you,” she whispered. “I never got the chance to say it last night. But I love you so much. I was just afraid last night I won’t ever get a chance to tell you it again.”


    “Xiao Yan Zi…I love you too. But It all went well, didn’t it? We all survived it. Thank Heaven!”


    ***

  11. #11
    Senior Member hmschocolate's Avatar
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    Chapter 10: Memories

    For the next six years, life seemed to return almost to normal at Jing Yang Gong. Though Xiao Yan Zi spent a lot of time in bed after Bao Zhu’s birth recovering from the exhaustion, she eventually got stronger. What astonished all the royal physicians was the fact that her illness seemed to lay dormant for the few years after Bao Zhu’s birth. Five years passed since Hu Tai Yi first made his diagnosis of Xiao Yan Zi’s illness, then seven years. It was only until the spring of Bao Zhu’s sixth birthday that Xiao Yan Zi showed any more sign of her illness returning to drain her. And this time, it returns with more ferocity than ever.

    ***

    The gang were all sitting at a table in a corner of Hui Bin Lou. It had been a while since they all came together like this, so the table was lively with talk of friends catching with each other. Xiao Yan Zi merely sat back and observed the conversations around her instead of contributing like she always did. She thought about how incredible it was that such a collection of people were brought together over the years. She couldn’t help but wonder at how Heaven had planned this whole set up. Indeed, if years ago, she didn't come across a young bride attempting to kill herself, she would never have found herself as the surrogate bride at the wedding. Then she would never had met Zi Wei and Jin Suo. And none of this would have happened.

    And now…ten years later, here they all were, each paired off. Xiao Jian and Qing Er had fallen head over heels in love from their first meeting, much to Xiao Yan Zi’s delight. They were married nearly two years after Xiao Yan Zi’s own wedding. Even Liu Hong found a husband for herself. The only ones missing from the group were Er Tai, Sai Ya, Han Xiang and Meng Dan. The former pair were still in Tibet, and the latter, from the regular letters they sent to Hui Bin Lou were living happily in Yun Nan.

    Xiao Yan Zi looked around Hui Bin Lou. This place held so many of their happiest memories. It was indeed their home away from the palace, always ready to welcome them. After eight odd years, the restaurant was still the same as it was when they first put it up. Er Kang and Yong Qi’s calligraphy work, Zi Wei’s paintings, changed over the years, hung on every pillar in the house. The vermillion balconies and pillars required fresh coats of paint every few years, which Xiao Yan Zi always claimed to be her responsibility and made sure that Jin Suo left the job to her.

    Xiao Yan Zi looked around at the rows of tables and chairs, the vibrant waves of customers and waiters moving about the large spaceous room. She never felt more part of life and safe than here, in Hui Bin Lou with all those she loved.

    As she thought about the number of times they have sat like this, crowded around a table, overwhelming emotions flushed over her. Tears sprang to Xiao Yan Zi’s eyes so quickly that she didn’t have time to hold them back. Discretely, she brushed away the tear that fell down her cheek, looking around her. She was relieved that everyone was occupied with their conversations to notice her sudden rush of emotions. However, Xiao Yan Zi felt Yong Qi’s warm hand reaching for hers under the table, squeezing it. Xiao Yan Zi bit her lip, steeling herself against the emotions as she held Yong Qi’s hand tightly.

    She wondered how many days like this she would have left to enjoy. She knew her strength was draining by each passing day. Would the next time that everyone gathered around here include her? She desperately hoped that it would. The idea that it would not scared her. It was the first time that Xiao Yan Zi had really ever felt fear. She feared what life might be without her…she feared leaving an empty space. Her place was always between Yong Qi and Zi Wei. What would happen when she was gone? What would be there instead?

    Just a memory of her. Just a memory of what they all remembered of her. That was the thing that terrified Xiao Yan Zi. Each and everyone of her friend had separate memories of her…but even combined together, the memories would never be completely her. And memories change, shift, lose intensity over the years…didn’t they? No, Xiao Yan Zi did not fear being forgotten. She knew they would not forget her. But they would get older and she would not… She would not be able to share the next stages of life with them, she would not know what it was to grow old, to watch the next generation grow up…She would not sit here at this table twenty years from now reminiscing today. That was what scared her.

    “You’re very quiet, Xiao Yan Zi,” Zi Wei said, looking with her with concern. Somehow this drew everyone’s attention to the fact that she had been sitting silent.

    “I’m fine,” Xiao Yan Zi smiled at everyone around her, but couldn’t stop the tears already down her cheeks. She closed her eyes briefly, feeling Zi Wei’s hand squeezing hers, Yong Qi stroking her other hand and kissing the side of her head. Then she opened her eyes again and looked around at everyone with eyes shining with tears. Words weren’t necessary between them now. Now was the time for each and everyone of them, especially Xiao Yan Zi, to savour this memory of them together.

    ~*~

  12. #12
    Senior Member hmschocolate's Avatar
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    Chapter 11: Promises

    Xiao Yan Zi propped herself up on her elbow and looked at Yong Qi sleeping beside her. She sighed as she placed a hand on his cheek, feeling his warmth again on her skin. She wanted to savour every moment she had with him because she knew there was a darkness in front of her that she must step into very soon.

    What scared her most was not the fact that death was looming closer than ever. It was the fact that she would be leaving everyone she loved. She wondered how she would cope if she were in Yong Qi’s position right now. She knew this whole situation was putting Yong Qi through more agony than he ever cared to let her be aware of, and the very fact that it was hurting him hurt her more than ever.


    She thought about Bao Zhu. What would her little girl be like, having to carry on her whole life without her mother? Xiao Yan Zi doubted that she will want a mother’s touch. No, Xiao Yan Zi was sure her female friends would make sure that her daughter would have enough of that. But it wasn’t the same, was it? She, herself, knew what it was like to grow up without a mother. Liu Hong, through her childhood, has been like a big sister, almost a mother to her, but there were countless times when Xiao Yan Zi wondered what life would have been liked if she knew her own mother. She had had six precious years with Bao Zhu, but how much would her daughter come to remember when she grew up? She was only six, after all, and even though Xiao Yan Zi’s condition had been explained to her, Xiao Yan Zi doubt she quite understood what was happening to her mother.


    For Yong Qi, Bao Zhu would be a constant reminder of her. Xiao Yan Zi wondered how what Yong Qi’s life would be like without her…after her. There was a part of her that sincerely hoped that one day, he would find someone who loved him like she did, and find happiness again. A woman, perhaps, who could be a wife to him like she never could be, who wasn’t the source of his every fear, his every dread. For Xiao Yan Zi knew Yong Qi lived each day in fear, in dread of her death. Still, there was another part of her that wanted Yong Qi, her Yong Qi, to remain hers forever.


    Xiao Yan Zi traced her fingers lightly over the contours of Yong Qi’s face, the bridge of his nose, his closed eyelids and then his lips. She leaned down to gently place a kiss on his lips, closing her eyes to savour the feel of his light breath on her skin.


    Yong Qi’s eyes slowly opened and smiled at her. Xiao Yan Zi smiled back.


    “You ok?” he asked her quietly.


    “Yes,” she said, gazing into his eyes. “Just…can’t sleep.”


    For a moment they both looked at each other. And at the moment, they both knew Xiao Yan Zi’s life was drifting away from her by the passing seconds and that the end which they both dreaded was very near. They both sat up, Xiao Yan Zi leaned into Yong Qi’s arms and rested her head on his shoulder. Yong Qi leaned down and placed gentle kisses on her lips, her cheeks, her nose and her forehead.


    “I love you,” she whispered.


    They were silent for a moment.


    “Are you scared?” Yong Qi asked. His voice was shaky. He asked her the question, and wondered if he was asking her or asking himself. He turned away from her, as if afraid to look at her.


    “I – I’m just scared of not having enough time,” Xiao Yan Zi whispered. “I know it’s coming. I just don’t know when. And I’m scared of that. I’m scared that it will take me by surprise and I won’t be able to tell you how much I love you. I’m scared that I don’t have enough time to tell you half as much as I want to tell you…that I love you. I love you so very much.”


    “I know, I know, Xiao Yan Zi. And I love you,” Yong Qi said, drawing her into his arms, his head resting on hers.


    “I just – there’s just so much I want to do…and I won’t have time…I want to be able to see Bao Zhu grow up…to see her married…to see our grandchildren…And I know I won’t,” Xiao Yan Zi wrapped her arms around Yong Qi’s waist, and buried her face in his chest. “I want to be there when our little girl falls in love and I have to convince you to let her go. I just regret that I won’t be able to see Bao Zhu on her wedding day and be able to tell her how very beautiful she looks. I want – “ Xiao Yan Zi broke off, tears taking over her.


    “I love you,” Yong Qi told her quietly and held her tight. “I love you very much.” It seemed that that was the only thing he could say to her that moment. Yong Qi felt so helpless, knowing he couldn’t do anything to stop her drifting away from him. All he could do right now was to hold her close and tell her how very much he loved her.


    “I don’t want to leave you, Yong Qi,” Xiao Yan Zi said quietly, gazing into his eyes.


    “Oh, Xiao Yan Zi,” Yong Qi breathed, not trusting himself to talk anymore than that, and pulled her closer to him, holding her in his arms. Tears prickled at the back of his eyes, and Yong Qi desperately willed them not to fall. He knew he had to be strong now, for Xiao Yan Zi, he had to not show his weakness. He knew he could not let her see how afraid her was of facing tomorrow, of facing the days ahead, the days without her. He could not show her how afraid he was of the bleak life that lay in front of him. A life without her.


    “I don’t want to let go, knowing I’m leaving you, knowing I’m hurting you,” Xiao Yan Zi choked through tears.


    “Don’t worry about me, Xiao Yan Zi. I’ll – “


    “Don’t you dare tell me you’re going to be all right,” Xiao Yan Zi said fiercely.


    “No, I’m not. But I will still have you in my heart. You’ll live in my heart. There will be memories. I’ll live, Xiao Yan Zi, so that you will live in me.” Yong Qi gave her a small smile but it took all of his self control not to let his tears fall. There was a painful lump at his throat and the more he looked at Xiao Yan Zi, the more he wondered how he would ever survive the pain that was coming to him.


    Xiao Yan Zi lifted her hand and touched his cheek, savouring the touch of his skin against hers. She leaned in and placed a small kiss on his lips, before saying, “I’ll be there. I’ll be with you, always. I’ll become the wind the blows by you always. Every time you walk through the garden and feel a gentle breeze, it will be me, a gentle kiss on your cheek.”


    Xiao Yan Zi smiled softly at Yong Qi. Yong Qi blinked back tears and buried his face in her soft hair, breathing in the sweet scent of her hair, feeling its soft texture on his skin.


    “I love you,” he whispered.


    “Promise me when the days come, you’ll tell Bao Zhu for me how proud I am of her. And that I love her very much. Promise me you’ll be a good father to her whatever happens,” Xiao Yan Zi whispered.


    “I promise.”


    “Don’t you dare do anything stupid, Yong Qi, don’t you dare! Promise me you’ll take care of yourself. Promise me, if one day, you meet someone who loves you as much as I do, that you’ll give her a chance. Promise me you won’t hesitate at a chance for happiness because of me. Promise me you won’t hold yourself back from falling in love!” Xiao Yan Zi looked straight into Yong Qi’s eyes earnestly. Yong Qi looked back at her, and it was perhaps then that he truly realised that he was losing her, that she was leaving him, that in a matter of hours, perhaps, he would have to let her go. And it broke his heart to realise it.


    “Promise me!” Xiao Yan Zi said again, tears in her eyes.


    “I promise,” Yong Qi said slowly and quietly.


    Xiao Yan Zi smiled at him, and leaned in to kiss him. They both held onto each other, lengthening the kiss, almost scared to let go, for fear breaking the kiss will break her life.


    When the parted, Xiao Yan Zi leaned back into his arms.


    “What will I do without you, Xiao Yan Zi?” Yong Qi whispered into her hair, his voice cracking, desperately trying to swallow the painful lump in his throat. “I really still can’t believe this is happening…it’s just surreal…and I’m just scared that when I do have to face it…I won’t be able to do it. It’s not supposed to be like this, Xiao Yan Zi. It’s not. I don’t – I can’t – “ Yong Qi stopped talking, and let his tears fall down his cheeks, soaking her hair.


    Xiao Yan Zi pulled away from him and brushed his tears away with her thumbs, like he did her so many times before. Tears were running down her own face. “You know, whatever happens, I don’t have anything to regret. I had seven wonderful years being your wife. I really don’t have anything more to ask for. Having you in my life has made the last years the happiest years of my life and I don’t regret a moment of it. I just wonder how it would have been if you didn’t shoot me with that arrow that day, where I’d be right now. No one has ever made me as happy as you do, and I love you for it. You love me even when everything was against us, you went through so much for me and I don’t know how I could have survived the last few years if it wasn’t for you. Know that I love you and Bao Zhu so much, and whatever happens next, wherever I am, I’ll love you.”


    Yong Qi leaned down and placed on her lips a full, passionate kiss. He felt as if he was pouring his heart out to her in that one kiss. As they slowly parted, Yong Qi whispered against her lips, “I love you.”


    Xiao Yan Zi kissed both his cheeks then she took his hands and wrapped them around her waist before leaning in and kissing his lips again.


    ~*~


    Xiao Yan Zi woke up the next morning feeling warm and happy, in Yong Qi’s arms. She stirred, and snuggled against Yong Qi, loving being so close to him, hearing his heartbeat next to hers. Yong Qi turned towards her, still half asleep, and drew her closer to him, mumbling into her hair, “My love, my darling. Xiao Yan Zi.”


    Xiao Yan Zi sighed against his chest. It was for this, perhaps, that she had been living for. Just the comfort of being in Yong Qi’s arms, knowing that he loved her.


    ~*~
    Last edited by hmschocolate; 01-22-07 at 11:21 PM.

  13. #13
    Senior Member hmschocolate's Avatar
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    Chapter 12: Loss

    That morning, Xiao Yan Zi stayed in bed. She had convinced Yong Qi that she would be fine while he went to attend the morning court meeting. Of course, he didn’t leave without instructing the servants to call for him immediately if something came up.

    Xiao Yan Zi spent the morning with Bao Zhu. Bao Zhu’s nanny had brought her into Xiao Yan Zi’s room soon after breakfast. As young as Bao Zhu was, she understood that her mother was seriously ill. She had never seen her mother so tired as she was lately, nor her father looking so full of sorrow and sadness. That morning was a morning that Bao Zhu would always remember afterwards, because it was the last morning that she had spent so intimately with her mother. A part of the conversation that morning that always brought tears to her whenever she remembered it afterward was when her mother had winced in pain and laid back from her sitting position into her pillows. She looked so pale and small then that Bao Zhu felt as if she would disappear into the many pillows on the bed. She had reached over and took her mother’s hand in her own tiny own. It always struck Bao Zhu afterwards how cold her mother’s hand had been, and it felt as if the little warmth that was left was creeping out by the second.


    “Er Niang, are you going to get better soon?” Bao Zhu had asked innocently. “It makes me sad to see you so weak and Ah Ma looking so worried.”


    Never had her mother looked at her with such an intense gaze as then. There were more emotions in her eyes than Bao Zhu could understand and make out at such a young age. “Sweetheart, I’m sorry you have to go through this,” Xiao Yan Zi sighed. “But you know, whatever happens, Bao Zhu, I love you. Don’t ever doubt that. Remember that. Do you understand?”


    Bao Zhu was not prone to crying. Even as a child, she cried little. But at that moment, hearing such a speech from her mother, Bao Zhu felt tears prickled painfully at the back of her eyes. But she knew she couldn’t cry, not then, not when her mother could see her. As young as she was, she knew, if she cried then, it would bring unbearable pain to her mother, and she couldn’t bear that. Bao Zhu nodded, and wrapped her small arms around Xiao Yan Zi’s neck, hugging her close. “I love you, too, Er Niang.”


    ~*~


    Yong Qi returned to Jing Yang Gong to small giggles in the bedroom. He leaned unsuspected against the doorframe and listened to Xiao Yan Zi telling Bao Zhu about their first kiss with a small smile on his face. He was glad that at that moment, Xiao Yan Zi looked so happy with Bao Zhu in her arms. He knew Bao Zhu was the best thing their marriage had brought them. There was a small part of him, not entranced by this scene in front of him, that took in how very pale and weak Xiao Yan Zi looked. She looked so different from the spirited young girl that had ran away on a horse in a fit of jealousy only to fall off the horse and ended up in his arms. It broke his heart to realise that while in her heart and soul she was still the woman he fell in love with, the very strength of her was draining by the minutes passing by.


    He crossed the room and sat on the edge of the bed. Bao Zhu greeted him with a hug. After placing a kiss on Bao Zhu’s forehead, Yong Qi turned to Xiao Yan Zi to kiss her lips. She smiled as they parted and slipped her hand in his. Three of them sat together like that, with Yong Qi and Xiao Yan Zi telling Bao Zhu more stories of the past until Xiao Yan Zi felt a sweeping cold pass over her.


    “Yong Qi, I’m so cold,” she whispered breathlessly. Yong Qi climbed into the bed and wrapped his arms around her, holding her close to him. Bao Zhu took her hand in her own small one, and snuggled against her mother.


    “This is nice,” Xiao Yan Zi whispered. “I don’t think I could ever ask for more, being with the two people I love best like this.” She gave Bao Zhu’s hand a squeeze and leaned down to place a small kiss on her hair before falling silent…


    …Yong Qi closed his eyes slowly when he felt Xiao Yan Zi’s body slumping against his. He didn’t move for a moment…until Bao Zhu’s small fearful voice spoke up. “Ah Ma…Er Niang’s hand…it’s got really cold and stiff…”


    Yong Qi felt his very heart seemed to stop for a moment, hearing Bao Zhu say this. It only served to drive home what he himself had just realised. The scorching wave of pain the swept through him was unbearable as he pulled Xiao Yan Zi close to him, burying his face in her hair, letting his tears pour out.


    Bao Zhu had never seen her father cry before, but now, seeing his shoulders shake in anguish, Bao Zhu suddenly understood. She had not understood what her nanny meant when she tried to explain that her mother might die soon. Her mother had always been there, and it didn’t register to her before how she could ever not be there. But now, seeing her father’s tears, Bao Zhu somehow understood that as much as her mother loved her and her father, there was too strong a force pulling her away. She couldn’t stay with them, no matter how much she loved them. And the only thing she could do was to tell both Bao Zhu and her father how much she loved them. A sudden sob broke through Bao Zhu as she realised this and she clutched onto her mother’s cold hand, rested her cheek against her mother’s shoulder and let the silent tears overtake her.


    ~*~


    That was how Ming Yue and Cai Xia found them. As soon as the two young maids saw the scene before them, they understood. For a moment, they could do little more than sob with Bao Zhu and Yong Qi. They had not just lost their mistress, but a sister, a friend, and a confidante, who they had grown to love. At that moment, both of them wondered how they had rendered so lucky as to be assigned to serve Xiao Yan Zi. Had they been assigned to another household, they would never have experienced the wonderful bond of friendship they received from Xiao Yan Zi and from the rest of the “family”.


    Yong Qi grew aware of the fact that Ming Yue and Cai Xia were in the room. He loosened his hold on Xiao Yan Zi and stroked Bao Zhu’s back, which was heaving with sobs. He didn’t even try to stem the flow of his own tears. Turning to Ming Yue and Cai Xia, he told them, “Take Bao Zhu to her room. And gather the servants, announce the news the the household. And everyone else.”


    Through their tears, Ming Yue and Cai Xia nodded, and managed to pry Bao Zhu from her mother and brought to her nanny. At the sight of Bao Zhu in tears, the nanny understood and gathered the small girl into her arms and let her cry.


    Meanwhile, Yong Qi released his hold on Xiao Yan Zi and laid her back onto the bed. He tucked the covers around her neatly. She didn’t look any different from when she was asleep. Yong Qi found it hard to believe, even then, seeing her so white and cold on the bed like that, that he had lost her forever. Hhe felt as if there was a hand holding his heart in a tight, painful grip, as each painful sob passed his lips. He leaned down and kissed her one last time, whispering against her lips, “I promise, Xiao Yan Zi, I will keep every promise I ever made to you. I love you,” the last three words passed his lips in painful sobs.


    He stood, yet it was as if his legs didn’t want to support him. He leaned his head against the bedpost, letting each wave of agony pass through him. He didn’t hear as Zi Wei’s arrival was announced.


    ~*~


    As soon as Zi Wei met Xiao Deng Zi’s tearful face in the court yard, before the eunuch could even tell her what happened, Zi Wei felt her worst fear confirmed.


    “Xiao Yan Zi!” a strangled sob escaped her lips as she rushed into the house to find the servants starting to drape the white mourning cloths over every door and wall. She ran into the bedroom and didn’t know what broke her heart more. The fact that she had just lost her best friend and sister, or the sight of her most beloved brother in total agony beside her body.


    Zi Wei moved over to Yong Qi and gently touched his shoulder. He turned around so fast that he nearly lost balance, but Zi Wei gripped his arm. “Yong Qi…” Zi Wei whispered through her tears.


    “When did you get here? How long have I been standing here?” Yong Qi asked, more to try and divert himself from the pain more than really wanting to know.


    “Just now. Yong Qi…oh Yong Qi.”


    To see the tears on Zi Wei’s face was more than Yong Qi could bear. It only drove home more painfully what had just happened.


    “Can you…can you stay…I just…I just need to – “ without even finishing his sentence, Yong Qi strode out of the room, and out of Jing Yang Gong.


    “Yong Qi!” Zi Wei called after him. But she understood why Yong Qi needed to get away from Jing Yang Gong at the moment. The mournful atmosphere covering the whole place could only be more painful to him. “Xiao Deng Zi – “ Zi Wei called to the eunuch.


    Having seen his master hurry out of Jing Yang Gong, Xiao Deng Zi understood what Zi Wei wanted him to do. He hurried after Yong Qi, not with a mind to disturb his master, but only to keep track of where he was.


    When Yong Qi left, Zi Wei turned around and really took into the whole sight of Jing Yang Gong. Every wall, every doorway, table, chair was draped in white. The cold whiteness of the room brought an errie feeling to the room and soon the white colour blurred in front of her eyes. It was as if the very cheerfulness of the whole house has gone out with Xiao Yan Zi and what was left was a cold, snow-white sheet covering everything and everyone.


    There was one comfort for Zi Wei, that she knew the sobs and tears that were coming to every servant of the house were genuine, not the obligated tears shed by servants when their master died. Xiao Yan Zi was truly loved by all her household servants and they were genuinely grieving their mistress as much as her family was.


    "Where is Xiao Ge Ge?" Zi Wei asked Cai Xia.


    "Replying Ge Ge, Xiao Ge Ge is in her room with the nanny," Cai Xia replied through her own tears.


    Zi Wei nodded and made her way into Bao Zhu's room. Bao Zhu had stopped sobbing but tears were still welled up in her eyes. As soon as she saw her aunt, she rushed over into Zi Wei's arms and another fresh wave of sobs broke from her. Zi Wei knew the pain of losing one's mother, and remembered back to the day that she lost her own mother. She had felt so utterly alone then. And Bao Zhu, only Heaven knew what pain, what loneliness she must be going through at such a young age. Zi Wei could only hold Bao Zhu in her arms and cry with her. It hardly seemed enough compared to the loss they both just suffered.

    ~*~

  14. #14
    Senior Member hmschocolate's Avatar
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    Chapter 13: Without

    Drying his tears on the way and trying to ignore the painful ache in his heart, Yong Qi made straight for the Imperial Stable and without another word to eunuchs there ordered a horse saddled (in a very shaky voice). He really didn't want to stop and think what a dreadful sight he must have looked at the moment, but jumped straight on his horse and rode straight out of the palace to to the outskirt of the city.

    He knew Zi Wei would never let him go off alone like this and knew she must have sent someone after him but he didn't care. He couldn't care less who was sent after him, as long as whoever it was would leave him alone and content themselves with the fact that he was not, in fact, off to do anything stupid like killing himself.


    No, far from it. Yong Qi just couldn't make himself stay in Jing Yang Gong at that moment. Not when he had to face with everyone else's grief while he couldn't even quite face his own. The sight of his daughter's tears had been the thing that made Yong Qi realised that he had really lost Xiao Yan Zi. The fact that even six-year-old Bao Zhu understood that her mother was gone had drove it home to him that he had lost her.


    He didn't stop his horse until he reached the wide plain outside the city that they have often visited, just racing their horses through the stretches of green grass, enjoying the sun and nature. The wide stretch of grass that spread out around him contained some of their sweetest memories, their happiest time together. Now, standing here, listening to the birds chirping and the occasional snorts of the horse beside him, Yong Qi wondered if he would ever feel happy again. How many hours they must have spent here, feeling totally happy and loved and carefree. Seeing it only made Yong Qi more acutely become aware of the pain rising in his chest and the tears that threatened to fall.


    He had known this would happen, hadn't he? He had been expecting this, these last few weeks more than ever. If he ever fooled himself by thinking that knowing this would happen would make it less painful, he knew he was so wrong now. Knowing it would happen only made it more painful to bear when it did.


    Xiao Yan Zi, Xiao Yan Zi, his Xiao Yan Zi. The woman he loved. The only one to have ever seen him as a man, and not a prince. The only one who had ever wanted to marry him because she loved him, body and soul, and not for his title. The only one who had ever understood him, understood the man underneath the title, the obligatory image of a proud aristocrat he was forced to carry all his life. The only who ever saw past his lavish clothes and seemingly perfect appearance to love the many imperfections underneath.


    Yong Qi had never allowed him to think it before, but now, he wondered how he would really cope without her. The spans of the years that lay ahead of him seemed bleak and cold, without Xiao Yan Zi's warm smiles and lively presence. She was the one who taught him to live life, not merely existing in it. She taught him what it was to really laugh and enjoy the pleasures around him, to appreciate the simple joys of laughter instead of taking for granted the gold and wealth around him. She was his life, his every breath. And now, his little swallow had flown away from him forever and he wondered if he could ever live again.


    He had promised her, hadn't he? That he would live so that she could live through him. Yong Qi knew, no matter how painful it might be to walk the rest of his life without her, he would keep his promise to her. She had taught him, after all, that life was too precious to waste. He would cherish it, his chance to enjoy the joys she could no longer enjoy, his chance to see and love and appreciate what she could no longer do. He would live, so that she'd live. He would cherish memories of her. Whenever he felt down, he would think of her, of her smiles, and it would make him smile too.


    Yong Qi's cheeks were wet with tears as he stood thinking of her. He knew she was here, with him. The gentle breeze played her songs, her sweet voice singing to him. This was their sanctuary, the place she would be, forever. As painful as losing her was, being here, in the place that was so magical to them both, comforted him.


    This was where she lived now.


    ***


    Yong Qi dreaded returning to Jing Yang Gong, knowing it would be full of people. The prospect of facing them all was not a welcoming one. But he knew he couldn't hide away from the world like this. Slowly, he made his way back to the palace. The walk from the stables to Jing Yang Gong had never seemed so long. It seemed even longer with passing servants bowing to him as usual but couldn't help giving him a sympathetic glance. Yong Qi avoided their eyes but couldn't avoid the emptiness inside him when he felt their eyes on his back. He walked rapidly back to Jing Yang Gong only to stop dead outside the gates. The sign that read Jing Yang Gong was draped in white. He knew, in the time he was gone, the whole building would have been transformed into a place of mourning. Perhaps Xiao Yan Zi would have been moved to her last bed already.


    Swallowing the tears threatening to fall out of him, Yong Qi stepped across the threshhold of Jing Yang Gong and into the courtyard. As he predicted, the house was full of people. Qian Long was standing at the window, staring out of the courtyard, but Yong Qi avoided his eyes. He knew, to see the sadness in his father's eyes right how would be more than he could stand.


    He hardly knew whether he even gave Qian Long and Lao Fou Ye the proper greeting. All he knew was that he had to get past all these people to be on his own somewhere. He met Zi Wei at the door to Xiao Yan Zi's bedroom.


    "How's Bao Zhu?" he asked quietly.


    "In her room. I think she'd cried herself out. Xiao Yan Zi...well, in here," Zi Wei whispered. She moved away to make way for him.


    Yong Qi closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath, as if wanting to gather all his courage before going into the room. In the middle of the room was a large gilded mahogany coffin. The lid stood beside it.


    Closing his eyes, he approached it. He let his hand rest on the edge of the coffin and felt its smooth coldness under his skin. Slowly, he opened his eyes. There was Xiao Yan Zi, lying there, in full court attire. It took Yong Qi moments to register that there was no life left in her, and everything that made this body the woman he loved was gone. This was just an empty shell of what had been the joy of his life. A strangled sob broke out from the back of his throat as he reached down to stroke her cheek, taking in the sight of her.


    Yong Qi knew he had probably cried more that day than he had ever done in his whole life but he couldn't stem the pain and the tears pouring from him now. Even though he didn't doubt the fact that he had lost her, there was still a part of him that wondered how it was possible that she was gone. He looked at her body in front of him and wondered how he would get through the next few days, the next few months and years.


    Abruptly, he turned away from the coffin, unable to keep looking at her and still keep standing. The rest of the room hit his eyes and Yong Qi took in the sight of the mournful place it was now, and wondered how a room that had seen so many happy times could now look so bleak and gloomy.


    He let his eyes travel the whole room and for the first time since he entered the house, he realised that perhaps he would never again be able to enter this room without feeling the intense pain that he was feeling now.


    ~*~


    That night, he entered Bao Zhu's room as she was getting ready for bed. After dismissing her nanny, he sat at the edge of Bao Zhu's bed and tucked the covers around her. Bao Zhu smiled weakly at him and took his hand in both her small ones. Yong Qi raised his other hand and brushed her hair back off her forehead, leaned down and kissed her there.


    "It's just you and me now, sweetheart, just you and me now," he whispered.


    "Ah Ma...why did Er Niang had to die?" Bao Zhu asked in a small voice.


    "No one really knows why people have to die, Bao Zhu, no one really knows why Heaven takes people away from everything they love. But you can be sure that wherever Er Niang is now, she is happy. She's gone to a place where she can no longer be in pain and suffer and she's happy."


    "I thought she was happy here with us," Bao Zhu said, her lips trembling.


    "Oh honey, she was. She hasn't left us forever, Bao Zhu, she is still around. When a person dies, they don't just leave the earth completely. Some parts of them do stay, if we who are still left let them stay, here, in our heart." He placed a hand over Bao Zhu's heart. "Er Niang loves you and me very much, Bao Zhu, wherever she is right now, she'll be thinking of us. And wherever we might be in the future, we take her with us in our hearts. She will always be there with you if you believe it, Bao Zhu."


    "You won't ever leave me, would you Ah Ma?" Bao Zhu asked innocently.


    Yong Qi looked at his daughter for a long time. How small she looked there in front of him. These past few months he had been so caught up with Xiao Yan Zi's health that he didn't realise that Bao Zhu too was going through the same pain as he was. And surely it must be worst for her, being so young and hardly understanding any of the things going on around her. "I think there might be a time when I will have to leave you, my dear, but it won't be for a long long time yet," he said to her, and leaning down to kiss her cheek. "Know that I always love you, Bao Zhu."


    "I love you too, Ah Ma!"


    Yong Qi gave Bao Zhu a small smile and tucked the covers around her tightly before saying, "It's late, you should go to sleep. Goodnight, sweetheart."


    "'Night, Ah Ma."


    ~*~


    Yong Qi didn’t open his eyes immediately when he woke up the next day. Perhaps if he didn’t rise immediately, everything that happened the day before would just end up a long nightmare. But as he reached over beside him to feel an emptiness, Yong Qi knew he couldn’t fool himself into thinking that it had not happened, and that he had not lost her.


    He was only thankful that he was excused from the morning court meeting that morning. The prospect of facing everyone at court that very morning was not a welcoming one an to have to meet people’s pititful gazes would only make the pain in his heart worse.


    He left it to Zi Wei and Qing Er to sort out Xiao Yan Zi’s clothes and belongings, though he had asked them to leave her room untouched. He didn’t want the whole house to be cleared of all reminders of her. No, he wanted her room left as it was so that he might come in here and still find traces of her lingering there.


    Later in the morning, Qian Long summoned Yong Qi to his study. Yong Qi barely remembered the interview, as painful as it was to discuss Xiao Yan Zi’s funeral when he himself was still trying to convince himself that she was gone.


    In fact, the next few days leading up to the funeral, and the funeral itself was a blur to Yong Qi. All he knew was that he was drowned in a sea of grief, of more pain and sorrow than he had ever experienced in his life. The only other time of grief he had experienced was when his mother died, but even then it was not as painful as this. He was only eight years old then, and the pain didn’t register so sharply as it did now. It did not make him feel any better that every time he met Bao Zhu’s eyes, those eyes which were the exact replica of Xiao Yan Zi’s, a fresh wave of pain would wash over him.

  15. #15
    Senior Member hmschocolate's Avatar
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    Chapter 14: Beloved

    Yong Qi didn't know what brought him to this room that night. Before he left Bao Zhu's room, he had every intention of sleeping in his own room that night, knowing that being in Xiao Yan Zi's room right after the funeral would be just too painful. But he ended up there anyway. Sitting on the bed that had held her just a few days ago just about broke Yong Qi's heart again. He ran his hand over the bed and remembered the happy times they had there. Picking up her pillow, Yong Qi buried his face in it and could still smell the sweet scent of her hair still lingering on the fabric. If he closed his eyes, he could still imagine her sitting beside him. Hot tears leaked from his eyes again and soaked the pillow.

    As he removed the pillow from his face, he noticed an envelop sitting on the bed where the pillow had been. Picking it up, he recognised his name written on the envelope was written in Xiao Yan Zi's slightly messay handwriting.


    Hands trembling, he opened the letter.


    My most beloved Yong Qi,


    By the time you are reading this letter, I would be - dare I write it? - dead. I will not tell you what date it is as I am writing this, as I do not think my end will come very soon yet, however, I must write this letter now while I still have the courage. If I leave it till I know that the end is near, I don't think I would be able to do it.


    I am trying to imagine what pain you must be feeling right now. I have tried to put myself in your position, what I would feel to lose you but I can't even begin to imagine the agony that you must be going through. It is not, I guess, a feeling you could ever imagine. You only feel it when it does come. I am sorry to be giving you so much agony for I know agony it must be. Maybe I am flattering myself too much by saying that but Yong Qi, by now, I know and appreciate how much you love me, just as much as I love you. I can no longer ask myself why you would choose me out of all the ladies at court but I can only thank you for loving me so much.


    If you're wondering why I'm even writing this letter, I have to tell you really that there is no real reason. All I know is that maybe you might want to have some reminder of me talking to you and this is the best I can come up with. You can stop reading now if it is bringing you too much pain and come back to it later. I just, I guess, want to leave you with something more tangible from me that you could come back to time and time again.


    I am dreaming now of a day, perhaps, I will never have had the chance to put this letter under my pillow for you to find. Perhaps, one day, years from now, I will take this letter, yellowed and faded, and give it to you to read myself, and we can smile in relief that the occasion never came for you to find it without me. But perhaps that is only a dream.


    If you have found it and I am dead...Yong Qi, I want you to know how much I love you. I may have known I was to die for a long time, but I will never have enough time to tell you half as much as I would like how much you mean to me and how much I love you. I can only thank Heaven now for bringing us together and giving me such wonderful time in your arms, being loved by you. Perhaps our future wasn't quite what we imagined. Before, when I imagined us married, I didn't think it would involve both of us dreading the day we would be wrenched apart but it seems that Heaven has its way of paining us. I am sorry though, that I could never be the wife I wanted to you. I never intended it to be so that you would have to worry about me with every day we pass together. But Yong Qi, while I blame myself I could never bring you relief and total comfort as a wife, I could only comfort myself by telling you now, that I have done everything I could to make sure you know how very much I love you.


    Bao Zhu is very small right now. I don't know how much time I will have left with her and whether in the future she will know me at all. But I guess there is a comfort that you will be her link to me. At least, I could be sure, that after all, despite everything, she will still have you. And I know you will keep your promise to me and be a loving father to her.


    Yong Qi, don't cry for me because I haven't left totally. I could never leave you totally. I am now the wind that follows you wherever you go. I love you; never forget that, Yong Qi.


    There is so much left of our lives that I want to be there for, and I am sure I won't. I guess the best thing I can come up with to make sure some part of me is there when those days do come are these letters. Look under the bed, you'll find a small box. Tthere will be letters from me to you and to Bao Zhu. Don't open them until the time that they are meant to be opened. I will count on you to make sure Bao Zhu get them when she should.


    Yong Qi, my love, my darling, please know how much I love you. I know how much you must be hurting to read this letter but I want you to know I really am sorry for putting you through this. Perhaps it might be better if we never met and never fell in love. But that we have, I can only thank Heaven for giving me a chance to know you, to love you and to be loved by you. If I have to die so soon, it couldn't make me more happy to do so in your arms and knowing that you love me. You have made the last few years the best years of my life and I know the time to come that I have left will be happy times, simply because you love me. I really don't have anything to regret in my life, because you have made it more complete than I could ever hope for.


    I love you.

    Your Xiao Yan Zi


    Only when he finished the letter that Yong Qi realised his cheeks were wet with tears again. He ran his finger on her name and brought it to his lips. When he was reading the letter, he could almost hear her talking to him and it only made him miss her even more now that he’d finished the letter.


    He sat there on the bed with the letter in his hands for a long time. He barely took in the letter's meanings the first time he read it, but was simply devouring the sight of her handwriting again, which had improved over the years and was no longer as illegible as it once was. He stared at the words in front of him, desperate at some reminder of her. When he first finished the letter, it seemed too painful for him to read it again and he was about to put it away before his hands refused to do what he wanted and opened the sheets of paper again and his eyes rested on the first words once more.


    After rereading the letters again and again, he slowly put it down and knelt by the bed to look under it. True to Xiao Yan Zi's words, there was a small box hidden under the bed. Yong Qi pulled the wooden box out of its place and opened it. It was filled with letters, sealed and marked with the appropriate times when Yong Qi and Bao Zhu should read them. As he flicked through the envelops, he smiled wryly at the ones marked "To Bao Zhu, when you meet your first suitor", "To Yong Qi, should you fall in love again", "To Yong Qi, on your wedding". Yong Qi wondered if he could open the latter two now, since he most probably never would have the chance to open them at the times Xiao Yan Zi had set them for. But after staring at them for a moment, he put them down with the other letters. He might, perhaps, years from now, open them. But to open them now would be too much pain to bear.


    Sitting there, with her letters in his hand only made Yong Qi miss her painfully. He stared at the jumble of paper in the box as if hynoptised, then slammed it shut. He closed his eyes and put the box back under the bed, and sat on the bed, breathing heavily. Then, he looked at the letter he found under her pillow again, and opened it to read it again.


    ~*~

  16. #16
    Senior Member hmschocolate's Avatar
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    Chapter 15: Letters

    [Excerpts from Xiao Yan Zi’s various letters to Yong Qi]

    ***


    …I cannot imagine that it wiould be my birthday and I will not be there to celebrate with you. You know, my birthday is always a day that I love, because for so long I never knew when it was. Only when Xiao Jian told me that I knew. But how could it be my birthday if I am not there? Do I even need to ask you to visit me today? I know you all will be thinking of me this day, but I hardly need anyone with me today, Yong Qi. I just need to have you by me, and that will be the best gift of all…


    ***


    Happy birthday, my love. It is your first birthday without since a long time…and I can’t imagine it. I wish I could be there to give you a real gift, not just this letter. But that I cannot…I think you will have to make do with this, though I am sure you will be receiving many more gifts a lot more exciting than this.


    Yong Qi, darling, I am sure you know this but I will say it again and again, that I love you very much. I haven't thought before I met you it was possible to feel so much emotion with your entire being for a single person. Yet I was wrong. I do confess the intensity of my love for you has scared me at first when I first realised it, when you kissed me when I fell off the horse. That, I guess was one reason why I pushed you away. I couldn't cope with the sudden rush of feelings flowing through me. It took me days after that to really steady my pace and enjoy my feelings for you.


    How I wish...I wish for a lot of things right now, Yong Qi, knowing not many of them would come true. Sometimes I feel like right now I'm living in the past, reliving my memories while waiting for my end. There are times when all that's happened since I met you flash before my eyes and I wonder if it's all fate. If it's fate for me to meet you. To love you. Yong Qi, my love, I wish so much to be there in your arms when you read this. But then, I'm wishing for something that can’t be…


    ***


    Do you remember what to day is, Yong Qi? Silly question. I would never have thought I would ever be grateful for someone nearly killing me, but I must thank Heaven that that deer escaped your arrow that day. I would never known a life with you otherwise.


    My love, I don't know what turns your life will have taken by this time, I don't even know how long I will have left you for at the time of writing this. Whatever the answer to these are, I hope you are thinking of me, of us, today. Dearest Yong Qi, do not cling to what we could have had, but savour the sweet memories we did have together. I want to tell you now again (for I will make sure I tell you this sometime or other before I must leave you), that you have more than kept your promise of making the last years of my life the best, happiest years ever. Just being with you, being loved by you and being your wife made them happy times. Bao Zhu, of course, added to the happiness.


    Bao Zhu would be a big girl by now though she is just a baby now. As I look at her now, I can hardly imagine her any older than this. When I think back of everything we went through before we get to this, blissfully married with a beautiful little girl, I thank Heaven again for letting me meet you, for letting our paths crossed like they did. Can you imagine the odds of two such different people like us ever meeting? But we did and for that, everyday, I am thankful. (Do thank Er Tai for me again whenever you see him for being the means of letting you shoot that arrow!) …


    ***


    I can’t yet imagine being dead, let alone having an anniversary for it. If you reading this, a year would have passed since my death. A year…I would not be present on the earth, in your life, in everyone else’ life, for a whole year already. And I can’t imagine it, Yong Qi. How do you imagine the world without you? Yet…somehow, oddly, I miss it. Just thinking about the things that I must have missed over that year after I die, and the many years to come afterwards…I miss it – life.


    Er Kang once said, there are deaths as light as a feather, there are also deaths as heavy as Tai Mountain. My death will be both. Light because I know I will die having your love, knowing every happiness in the world, being married to you and having Bao Zhu, havinga family and friends who love me. It will heavy because I know it will mean I will have to leave all that family and friends whom I love and hurting them all. Especially you.


    And today, a year from my death…Is your heart light as a feather or heavy as Tai Mountain, Yong Qi? I am selfish enough to hope you are thinking of me today, though knowing it must bring you pain. Yet I also hope that you feel some relief anyway, because I am no longer here to worry you, that you no longer have to dread my death…


    ***


    …I would love to be able to be there and tell you how much I love you on our tenth wedding anniversary. But Heaven was not willing, then I must content myself with writing to you now, years from the actual date I'm writing about, so that when that day does come, you will be reading it.


    I don't want to pain you and remind you of what we could have had but even now, writing this letter, I wish I could be with you on this day. But it is not for us to dwell on what we cannot help.


    Do you remember, Yong Qi, the day when you first told me of your feelings for me? I was so confused then, and for weeks afterwards, I wasn't able to fully admit to myself how much I have come to feel for you. People always say your first kiss should be something memorable...and ours was very much that, though I should think, in a not so orthodox way. But as brief and unexpected as it was and perhaps the fact that I ended it a bit unsatisfyingly, I do cherish the memory of that day because that kiss was so very much us. It might not have been the most romantic kiss I could imagine for my first, but it did ensure we remember it and treasure all our kisses after that, didn't it? I would never have let you know this then, but I have to tell you now, for a moment before my pride took over and I pushed you away, I enjoyed most ardently the feeling of your lips on mine and the kiss did made me most giddy. I was strongly tempted to kiss you back and let my my pride go but alas, my pride was perhaps a little stubborn at that point. It took all my resolve to push you away then and I wanted so much to kiss you again after I did…


    ***

    A/N: I, er, ran out of ideas for the letters about here.

  17. #17
    Senior Member hmschocolate's Avatar
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    Chapter 16: Pride

    Bao Zhu sat straight on the chair as the maids flutter around her, fussing over a million little things that need to make up her attire. She had never felt so nervous in her life. But then she had never got married either.

    Bao Zhu looked around the room. There was her aunts, Zi Wei and Qing Er, and Zi Wei's daughter, Mei Ling and a dozen palace maids filling the room. The rest of the family and guests, of course, was outside in the main rooms of Jing Yang Gong. Her bedroom only admitted so many people.


    Bao Zhu knew she should be happy. And she was. She was getting married to the man she loved, the man who she knew loved her. But there was still someone missing. What wouldn't she give to have her mother here with her!


    For these thirteen years, Aunt Zi Wei had been so much like her mother. She was there when Bao Zhu needed to cry about her mother, when she needed someone to talk to. Her father more than loved her, and would always be there when she needed him, but Bao Zhu was still grateful for her aunt's female influence in her life. Though her home was at Jing Yang Gong with her father, but she spent so much of her time at Fu residence with her aunt and cousins that it felt like a second home. It was there that Bao Zhu could for a moment feel part of a family, with all her cousins beside her. In the quiet of Jing Yang Gong with her father, Bao Zhu was often reminded so sharply of her mother that sometimes she couldn't bear to be in Jing Yang Gong for long. It only reminded her of what her cousins had and what she lost.


    At nineteen, and on her wedding day, though she had all the people she loved around her, Bao Zhu wished that her mother could be here. Bao Zhu had never felt more nervous in her life, and wondered if her mother had felt quite this nervous getting married to her father.


    Her father.


    There was no doubt that he was a big part of her life. As a little girl, before her mother died, Bao Zhu could remember how her father loved her and her mother, how he doted on them. Then the day they both lost the most important woman in their life, the first time Bao Zhu had ever saw her father cry, it seemed to bring them closer together more than apart. She had always been her father's little girl. Nothing was too good for her, there wasn't anything she wanted that he wouldn't grant her. Bao Zhu knew it would have been more than enough for her to end up spoiled and full of herself. But losing her mother at such a young age, Bao Zhu eventually came to realise she was the only thing her father had left of her mother. They only had each other to remind them of her mother. She came to appreciate his love and attention and most importantly, him, more than any of the gifts he could give her.


    Of course, then she fell in love.


    Ying Ming was Er Tai's second son, whom she only met when she was nearly ten, when Er Tai finally brought his family back to China from Tibet. He was only a year older than her. For years, until about two years ago, they have been friends, close friends, but it never appeared to either of them to feel anything non-platonic for each other. Not until her grandfather started talking of marrying Ying Ming to one of her other cousins, Hong Yao, a daughter of one of her (many) uncles. Bao Zhu was first strangely annoyed at the suggestion, then strangely jealous when Ying Ming spent more time to get to know Hong Yao. She was estatically happy to hear Ying Ming tell her grandfather that whist Hong Yao was really nice, there just wasn't a spark between them. Somehow, things changed between Ying Ming and Bao Zhu after that, but it still took a long time for both of them to realise the feelings growing between them.


    Of course, it took longer for her father to accept that his little girl was growing up and falling in love. Bao Zhu felt strangely guilty for leaving this place, her childhood home, her father. But she knew she loved him...and she knew her father wouldn't want her to forego her happiness. But she also knew how hard it must be for her father after this day to come back to the empty house. The thought made tears spring into her eyes, and she blinked, at the most inopportune time, a tear falling down her cheeks. The maid who had been applying her makeup yelped at the sudden movement of her eyes, frowning at the smudged eye makeup but quietly handed her a hankerchief.


    After having to sit stiffly for a long time, Zi Wei finally announced her make up to be done and she was ready. Miraculously, they managed to finish her preparations in reccord time, and still had time to spare before she must ascend the sedan.


    Most of the maids exited the room to put away things, leaving her in the room with her aunts and cousin. Zi Wei took her hand and raised her to a standing position and looked her up and down.


    "How do I look?" Bao Zhu asked nervously as all three women smiled at her.


    "Beautiful. I'd say how much you look like your mother but to own the truth, on your mother and my wedding day, I was too nervous to notice how she looked," Zi Wei smiled. Mei Ling grinned at her appreciatively behind her mother's back.


    "Your mother would be proud of you, Bao Zhu," Qing Er said quietly, squeezing her hand.


    "You think so?" Bao Zhu asked again, nervously.


    "I know so," her father's voice sounded from the door, smiling at her with a small smile. "Can I have a moment alone with my beautiful daughter who's about to leave me for another man?" he asked the others. His voice was light, but Bao Zhu could tell that he was dreading losing her.


    After the others had exited the room, Bao Zhu looked at her father, and said in a quiet voice, tears threatening to fall, "Ah Ma!"


    He came forward and took her hands and surveyed her. For a long time, he didn't speak. Then finally, he squeezed her hands and said, "Your mother said to me once, how much she wished she could be there to convince me to let you go, to be with you on your wedding day and tell you how very beautiful you look. It falls on me now, I think, to tell you that you look very beautiful, sweetheart. It is very hard for me to watch my little girl grow up and to let you go now, but Bao Zhu, honey, know that both your mother and I are very proud of you. I've always wondered how you would cope growing up without your mother. I've always done everything I could for you but I know I can never make up for your mother. You aunts all provided you with female influence but I've always wondered if I couldn't have done more, if I had been unselfish enough to marry again, to give you a mother and siblings, instead of letting you grow up in a virtually empty house with just me. You were so young when your mother..."


    "Ah Ma!" she cried, interrupting him. "Ah Ma! You know you couldn't have married without love and I know you loved Er Niang very much. Er Niang wouldn't want you to marry without love and I wouldn't have wished an unhappy marriage on you. I assure you, my cousins more than make up for any siblings I needed. I'm grateful I still have you."


    Tears were running down her cheeks now, but Bao Zhu couldn't care less about her make up. If she ended up a mess and there wasn't time to touch up her make up and Ying Ming could still love her, then she would know she made the right choice.


    Her father reached up and brushed away her tears. "Don't cry, Bao Zhu. It's your happy day, today," he said, but Bao Zhu could see he was holding back tears himself.


    She threw her arms around. "I love you, Ah Ma," she whispered.


    "I know, sweetheart. I love you, too." He held her at arms' length and kissed her forehead. "My dear, I hope when you've gotten over the giddiness of being newlywed, you'll remember to come visit your Ah Ma." There was such a note of sadness in his voice that Bao Zhu very much wanted to cry again. She knew it was a bittersweet day for both of them. Then, her father handed her a letter. Bao Zhu knew who it was from. "From your mother, of course. Bao Zhu, know this. However hard today might be for me to face, I do want you to enjoy today and be happy. You are stepping into a whole new life and I want you to rejoice in it. Don't feel guilty for me, sweetheart. I would have had to let you go someday anyway. Ying Ming is a good man, I know he will make you happy, I would never have given my permission and blessing otherwise. Be happy, Bao Zhu. It is all your mother and I could ever wish for. We both love you very much, sweetheart. "


    He laid a kiss on her hair, then, squeezing her hand, he said, "I think you still have time to read that." He smiled at her and left her alone.


    Bao Zhu brushed away the tears still lingering on her cheeks. Looking in the mirror, she realised that only her eye makeup *really* suffered from her tears, and it could be remedied by her handkerchief. Of course, if her aunt could see her now, Bao Zhu knew she would insist her makeup be redone altogether.


    Sighing, Bao Zhu broke the seal on the letter and read her mother's now smiliar handwriting.


    My dear Bao Zhu,


    I can hardly believe I'm writing this letter or that there will be a day when you'll be reading it. My dear daughter, how I wish I could be there with you on your big day, but it does not do well do dwell on what we could have had. I know your aunts will fuss over you enough so that you will hardly miss me. Though I do hope that you at least do spare me a thought on this day.


    Bao Zhu, sweetheart, I want you to know that I love you very much. As many times as I've said this before, it will never be enough. I love you and I wish I could be there to see the beautiful and wonderful young lady you have become. Know that, whatever you have embarked in for your life, I am very proud to call you my daughter. I will leave it to your father to keep his promise to me and tell you how very beautiful you must look today.


    I hope, my dear, you have chosen most prudently in your choice of husband. I know your father, he must have been most stubborn in agreeing to let you go off and marry. But I also know, dearest, that if he had given you his blessing, your future husband must be worthy of you. I know that your father would never part with you with some one that he does not hold in highest esteem.


    You are very small yet as I write this, but by the time you read this, you will be all grown up. I cannot possibly begin to guess who you are marrying, but I do hope that both of you love each other as much as your father and I do. I know you grow up in the palace, where true love in marriage is rare and few in between. Depending on when I die, I do not know if you will remember what it is to see your father and me together. But I will always try, my dear, while I have the chance, to show you that the marriage between your father and I are based on the deepest of mutual love and respect. Do not go for any less than that, my dear. Marriage is a holy state that lasts a lifetime. You must choose so that you can utterly respect and hold your partner in high esteem through out your lives. Though my marriage to your father is blissfully happy, I have seen marriages around the palace that are full of resentment, emptiness and no happiness. I would never wish such a state on you, my only child. I hope, therefore, you can be confident enough to expect none of this but a lot of love, affection and respect in your husband. If you cannot, I do not think it is too late to change your mind (I am kidding...or am I?).


    I hope, honey, you will find utmost happiness in your marriage and that your courtship had not been as - shall we say - chaotic as your father's and mine was. Do not be afraid to share your life totally with your husband. Happiness comes not only from love and respect, but from openness and honesty. If you are honest enough with your husband to tell him what is important to you in life, he should love you enough to respect your wishes. Women might expect their husbands to automatically read what they want, but men, as limited as my experience might be, I have found, are not very perceptive. If you want something from your husband, you must be honest enough to tell him. You might be married but that does not make him be able to read your mind. Be open with him, Bao Zhu, even if it is on the most delicate of subject. Especially in the most delicate of subjects. I am sure you know what I mean. Beating around the bush only creates frustration and resentment, and those will end even the deepest of love.


    I think you must have enough of my rambling by now. I am sure Zi Wei would have had a talk with you already, for I know she loves you as her daughter and will want the best of happiness for you. My dear, I wish you the very best in your marriage. Be happy, Bao Zhu, it is all I could ever wish for you. I do love you so very much, my dear. Always remember that.


    With all my love,

    Er Niang


    Bao Zhu finished the letter, and tried desperately to hold back the tears threatening to fall out of her again. Reading the letter, she could almost hear her mother talking to her again, though it had been many years since Bao Zhu had heard her voice. It almost made up for the loneliness she felt for her mother on this day, this day which is supposed to be the happiest day of her life. And it was. It just missed her mother's presence, a presence almost made up for by the letter.


    A knock sounded at the door, breaking Bao Zhu out of her reverie. Her aunts entered the room again. After much more fussing from the older women and touching up on her make-up, a red silk veil was thrown over Bao Zhu’s head, obscuring all her vision. Then, with a maid at her arm, guiding her to the flower sedan, Bao Zhu stepped into the next stage of her life, her mother’s letter still in her hand.


    ***

  18. #18
    Senior Member hmschocolate's Avatar
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    Epilogue: Eternally Yours

    Yong Qi closed the door to his bedroom behind him. It was near dawn but as tired as he was, he knew he would not get much sleep today. So from today on, he would be alone. It wasn’t that he was not happy for Bao Zhu. No, he was. He knew he couldn’t have chosen better for his daughter if he tried. Ying Ming was everything that he could have hoped for in a husband for Bao Zhu, and more. He knew she had made the right choice and she will be happy with him. As he, Yong Qi, had been with Xiao Yan Zi.

    But there was a definite melancholy air at Jing Yang Gong now. Never had Yong Qi felt the loss of Xiao Yan Zi as acutely as he did now, now that the house was empty except for him. It was strange, before he married, he had lived alone and the silence never seemed as loud as this.


    It had taken Yong Qi a long time to get used to the fact that Bao Zhu was growing up and must leave him. Having to realise this only made him realise just how long he had gone on without Xiao Yan Zi in his life. She never left his thoughts and was always present in his dreams, but now that he had let Bao Zhu go, Yong Qi wondered if that was all his life had been, all these years – a dream. He had accepted losing Xiao Yan Zi, but she was always there, her presence around him when she was gone was perhaps even stronger than when she was still there. A presence helped by Bao Zhu, who was a constant reminder of her mother. Ever since he lost Xiao Yan Zi, he had lived more for Bao Zhu than for himself. He had lived for Bao Zhu to know everything she was to know about Xiao Yan Zi, he lived on the constant memories and images of Xiao Yan Zi provided by Bao Zhu. Now that Bao Zhu had left for a new life without him, Yong Qi wondered again, as he had the day Xiao Yan Zi died, how his life would proceed from now on.


    No, he had kept his promise to Xiao Yan Zi. He had not held himself back from love. He had always tried not to compare the other women around him to Xiao Yan Zi. Yet even then, he could not find in any of the women around him something that would enable him to share his life with them. He didn’t try to find traces of Xiao Yan Zi in them, he knew he never could. By now, Yong Qi had resigned to the fact that he loved Xiao Yan Zi too much, even now, especially now, years after her death, that he can never bring himself to feel the smallest glimmer of love for any other woman.


    Yong Qi lay down the bed, feeling ever more the emptiness beside him, an emptiness that made the whole room feel too big, and him so small. Part of him knew that this was how his life was going to be, yet there was another part of him that hoped, after all these years, Xiao Yan Zi would walk in any moment and lay a sweet kiss on lips or Bao Zhu would run in and wrap her arms around him, and tell him about some silly things she had seen on the way home from her aunt’s house.


    He pulled the last letter from Xiao Yan Zi out from under his pillow and turned the envelope over in his hand. He was putting off opening this letter, knowing that the other two letters, which she had written for when he remarried or fell in love, would probably never have the chance to be opened. This was the last. He wondered if Xiao Yan Zi realised how he would be feeling today. It was a mix of happiness for his daughter, sadness at having to let her go, and intense sorrow of not having Xiao Yan Zi to share this day with.


    Finally, fingering the seal for the last time, Yong Qi broke open the letter.


    Yong Qi, my love,


    If I thought writing the letter to Bao Zhu for this occasion was hard…it’s harder writing to you. I have a distinct feeling this would be the last letter you read from me, and that is part of the reason why I am quite at lost at what to write. Should I rejoice that you have, by now, whenever now is, found happiness? I am not so selfish as to hope you would remain alone for the rest of your life, Yong Qi. I really do hope (despite that one small part of me that possessively want you to be only mine) that you have or will find love and happiness again. But…I am getting off the point. I guess thinking about the day when one day, Bao Zhu would be married makes me remember our wedding…and the joys we had from it and I just hope, I wish, I want you to feel that happiness for every day of your life, with or without me.


    I am at lost trying to imagine Bao Zhu on her wedding day, as small as she is now. I do not know what is harder to imagine right now, the fact that Bao Zhu would be getting married or that I won’t be there to share the happiness and the pride with you. I know you must have battled with yourself to let her go. I know you would not have let her go to some one unworthy of her, so I really do think that if you have manage to talk yourself into this wedding, like you didn’t get yourself talked out of our wedding, Bao Zhu will be very happy, like we were with our marriage. I cannot claim to be able to determine what you must be feeling right now, considering I never have been in your position before nor can I imagine being there. But Yong Qi, whatever you are feeling, I really do hope you do truly feel happy for Bao Zhu. I hope, also, that neither you nor Bao Zhu will ever have cause to regret your decisions.


    There is a part of me that have this nonsensical, whimsical fantasy that Bao Zhu would be marrying Guang Qing or someone in the “family” – that word used to be understood however you want. Yet I with the number of men out there for her to choose from, the possibilities are vast. I guess I should just hope her courtship was not quite as tulmunous as ours was…or maybe I should hope it was. I do find that our love only grew stronger with all that we had to go through. I never wish for Bao Zhu to regret her decision, especially not this decision. If she had gone through enough hardship for her love and courtship to withstand the tests and trials of time, she will be happy.


    I cannot even begin to imagine being away from her now and I know what you must feel right now. But Yong Qi, she is not leaving you for eternity. She will always be our Bao Zhu, our daughter before she is a wife, and I really cannot imagine her forgetting you any time soon. Yet at the same time, I know as much as I wish to be there with you on this day, you must want me there with you as well. But, no, do not mourn me today, Yong Qi. Do not dwell on loss today. Be happy for Bao Zhu, be happy for us. Remember all the happy days we had together, because I will never forget the happiness you gave me, Yong Qi. I only hope Bao Zhu feels as much in her new life and perhaps, you too. But in case you have not found that happiness again, I will not dwell on that either.


    I am just thinking back at our wedding now. It seemed like yesterday but at the same time so long ago. How I loved you then and how I love you now, for always. I don’t think there was ever a more nerve-wrecking time in my life other than that journey from Shu Fang Zhai to Jing Yang Gong. The journey never seemed so long before. I was so sure when I stepped into the room that my heart stopped breathing. I cannot imagine you feeling any more nervous than I at that moment. You, at least, could see me. All I could see then was just red. Red of happiness…of course.


    I have often thought about the colours in my life. Meeting you was one turbulence of gold and silver…perhaps literally, considering the life I was stepping into. But the magical spark of our first meeting was the whole foundation for everything we had afterward. The first time you told me of your love…part of me was scared, but the other part of me never felt the freshness of the green of spring as clearly as that moment. The first kiss took me by a whirlwind of colours that I ended before I really realised what was going on. Our courtship after that was full of the soft pastel hues of love, the vivid orange of my insecurities and jealousy, blues of our arguments, the clear, cheerful yellow of reconciliation. Red for our wedding. Red the for the passion the ensued after that night, red for the happiness that engulfed me…us…I will never forget waking up the morning after in the blur of red curtains, feeling so warm and happy in your arms. And you…you are the colour of my love.


    Yong Qi, I love you and unlike always, I will end this letter,


    Eternally yours,

    Xiao Yan Zi

    ***

    The End

    ***

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